Home > criminal law, law general > To Talk to the Cops or Not: What are you REQUIRED to say?

To Talk to the Cops or Not: What are you REQUIRED to say?

So I have teenaged sons.  And it appears from my experience with them and law enforcement that they, being teenaged boys, are cop magnets.  I’ve had my kids report to me that they were stopped by police for some of the slimmest of reasons. Legitimate reasons for the stop include going a mile over the speed limit, having a tail light out, failure to illuminate a license plate, etc.  While these may seem weak, they do give law enforcement justification to effect a stop, as they have reasonable suspicion to believe that the person has violated some law.

Following this encounter between law enforcement and some kids


These aren’t the kids involved, but they ARE sitting on a red truck, and they ARE guilty of being teenaged boys.

my middle child was hanging out with last Friday night (my kid was NOT in one of the cars, thank heavens), a discussion came up between me and my boss about whether one MUST provide identification during a stop.  There’s a lot of myth and misunderstanding about this, so I decided it was time to do some research.  (I’ve gotta know what to tell my kid, ya know?)

This is state of Utah specific, and the statutes cited are Utah Code.  Every state’s a little different, so you’ll have to do your own research if you’re  not in Utah.

In a case decided by the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit (of which Utah is a part), the court worked through whether one is required to provided identification to law enforcement in the course of a stop.  The case is Oliver v. Woods, 209 F.3d 1179 (2000). The case revolves around whether Oliver’s 4th amendment rights had been violated by the stop and detention, and then if the stop WASN’T justified, whether he had to provide identification to the officers or not (he had refused).

Traffic Enforcement

…and this isn’t Centerville or Farmington city…just for the sake of full disclosure.

The Utah Code sections that were cited in the Oliver case are U.C.A. §§ 53-3-217, 76-8-301.5, and 77-7-15.  And the sum up is this:

  1. You’re required to carry your license with you at all times while operating a motor vehicle (UCA 53-3-217), AND you are also required under that same statute to present it “upon demand of a…peace officer…” This means that the drivers license code requires you to provide ID to a cop.
  2. If you are subjected to a lawful stop, the officer “may demand [your] name, address and an explanation of [your] actions.” ( UCA 77-7-15). And this is a lawful stop: “A peace officer may stop any person in a public place when he has a a reasonable suspicion to believe he has committed or is in the act of committing or is attempt to commit a public offense.”
  3. Failure to provide your name to an officer during a *lawful stop, after being asked for it by law enforcement, is a class B Misdemeanor. (UCA 76-8-301.5)

So there ya go.  Yes, you have to give the cop your ID, and yes, you may have to tell him what you’re doing wherever it is that you are.   BUT you don’t have to say anything else.  So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, recognize that you have a right to remain silent, that officers are not allowed to question minors outside of the presence of their legal guardian or parent, that if you’re over the age of 18 you are not obligated to say anything beyond the above (don’t elaborate!!), and that you do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle.

Our Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure has been fairly tightly defined by the courts, but it’s not always easy to determine what’s an unreasonable seizure/detention and what is not, especially in the moment.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have that right.  At least invoke those rights to remain silent when reasonableness of the stop is in question.

To wrap up:  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be courteous to law enforcement.  Be respectful.  Whatever your opinion is of the police, they deserve to be treated with respect AS DO ALL OTHER HUMANS.  And you have a much better chance of NOT getting arrested or yanked out of your car and tazed if you’re not a jerk about the stop.

Officer & Family

Officers are people too… So don’t act like a total jerk when you’re pulled over, m’kay?

*Note:  There is a line between whether the stop is “lawful” or not, but it’s a fine line, and one that you really don’t want to risk testing given that the courts may or may not decide you were right.

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