In the United States, what is the obligation of a police officer to tolerate the Sovereign Citizen obstruction game, lecturing the Officer about the Law and asking questions whose only purpose is to obstruct and take control of the conversation? Is there an acceptable standard for minimum tolerance allowing the driver to play the game? Specifically with regard to the following:

  1. At what point can the officer make the arrest after non-cooperation with regard to identifying oneself as the only cause?

  2. Once the arrest is made, can the officer proceed to search the identity of the driver in the driver's person and vehicle, even when identity is the only cause?

  3. Can the person be transported to a secure facility and held until an identity process is complete, even when the refusal to identify is the only cause?

  • I wouldn't characterize it as a game. – mark b Jul 30 '19 at 16:14
  • @markb how then would you characterize it? – phoog Jul 31 '19 at 20:14
  • @phoog it's a belief system. One in which people believe they are not subject to many of the laws of society. Other groups who have somewhat managed to achieve a little of what they have are Amish, and other groups. i.e. The Amish are many times able to escape being subject to social security, etc. – mark b Aug 1 '19 at 14:26
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    @markb I don't find the analogy close at all. The sovereign citizen basically tries to challenge the legitimacy of the legal system on a technicality, typically employing a good deal of logical fallacy in the reasoning, and they tend to make their claims only to their benefit. By contrast, the Amish accept both the costs and benefits of not participating in social security. – phoog Aug 1 '19 at 15:24
  • @phoog I'm pretty sure there is an analogy there somewhere. As with anything, adherents to a philosophy range from being a little bit with it to a lot. I'm sure there are a lot of radicals in the sovereign citizen movement, but I still wouldn't call it a game. It's a philosophy. Anarchism is a political stance not a game. – mark b Aug 1 '19 at 16:14

OP's item 1 says the only cause for a police officer making an arrest is failure to identify oneself. Item 2 mentions a driver. Since there are multiple situations where a driver is required to present a driver license, which would also identify the driver, the only scenario I can think of that fits both items is a passenger refuses to identify him/herself. The ACLU has a Know Your Rights guide which indicates that only some states require people to identify themselves to police, and even then, it suffices to state one's name; presenting an identification document is not required.

When a law enforcement officer makes a lawful arrest, that is normally considered justification for making a warrantless search of the person who was arrested and the immediate surroundings. I think it's unlikely the search could be extended to the person of the driver or other passengers.

Once the person is arrested, the person would be brought to an appropriate facility, where further investigation would be conducted, including looking into the person's actual identity.

  • The issue with it being sometimes sufficient to simply state one's name and not show ID is that "sovereign citizens" either refuse to state their legal name, or use a bogus name that is not their legal, given name. – BlueDogRanch Jul 29 '19 at 20:29
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    At least in the United States, I don't believe in the concept of a general purpose "legal name". Sure, for some narrow area of law such as obtaining a driver license or professional license, the law may specify how the name is to be established. But in most states, a person may change his/her name based on usage (if everybody calls me "John Doe" then I AM John Doe, without any legal formalities). And a person can also use an alias if not done for a deceitful purpose. – Gerard Ashton Jul 29 '19 at 21:00
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    It doesn't matter if you don't believe in the concept of a general purpose "legal name". And we're not talking about people changing their name for convenience. We're talking about sovereign citizens obstructing peace officers and the courts. – BlueDogRanch Jul 30 '19 at 16:18
  • @BlueDogRanch but there is no unified concept of a legal name in many states. New York is an example. In New York, common law still applies, and you can adopt whatever name you want without any legal formalities as long as you're not trying to deceive anyone. Of course, if the first time you attempt to adopt that name is during a traffic stop, you're going to have a hard time convincing anyone you weren't trying to be deceptive. But if you have a long history of calling yourself "John DOE, Freeman of the land," or whatever, then that is your legal name. – phoog Jul 31 '19 at 20:22

By asking #1, #2 and #3, you're trying to split the hairs of a law that is very clear. Very simply, you are required by law to follow all of a police officer's lawful commands, which includes identifying yourself. If you don't, you are subject to arrest for refusal to follow commands, and possibly subject to a lawful search based on probable cause and what is visible to the officer in the car or on your person, or a later search based on a warrant. You can argue the stop and request for ID and any search in court, and not with the officer. See Do you have to follow all the orders a police officer gives?

Don't fall into the nonsense trap of "Sovereign Citizens." See What are "freemen of the land" or "sovereign citizen" theories and do they hold any water?

As for

Is there an acceptable standard for minimum tolerance allowing the driver to play the game?

Do you really think it is a game? Officers are trained to deal with uncooperative people, and many have been trained in dealing with "sovereign citizens" and extremists of any persuasion. By not cooperating, you stand the chance of the officer legally escalating the situation and are more likely to be searched, transported and eventually lose any credibility or chance of leniancy with a judge.

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    I'm assuming that the OP means that the person is driving. But if they are not driving, in many states one would not need to identify themselves unless they are under arrest. It depends on the stop and identify statutes of the state. The only clue that a person has that this is possibly a question about someone who is the driver of a motor vehicle is the tag of 'traffic' however, we could be talking about a passenger. The laws are different. – mark b Jul 29 '19 at 21:24

An individual that is driving, and has been suspected of committing a traffic infraction. Will be required to present ID when stopped by Police. In most states in the U.S., 'Failure to ID' is a secondary charge. So in order to be arrested for that, a primary offense is required. If the person suspected of the crimes/infractions refuses to ID. Then the Police will try to determine the ID in the station. If the Police are towing the car, they are required to conduct an "inventory" of the car, not a search.

  • Drivers are not necessarily required to identify themselves. They're required to prove that they're licensed to drive. A valid US passport, for example, is not particularly useful to a driver who has been stopped for a traffic infraction, even though it is one of the more secure forms of identification available to US citizens. – phoog Jul 31 '19 at 20:24
  • You are correct. But the context of the question was asking about ID. At what point can the officer make the arrest after non-cooperation with regard to identifying oneself as the only cause? – Digital fire Aug 1 '19 at 1:54
  • And the answer probably depends on the state's stop-and-identify statute, if there is one, as well as on the driver licensing statute if the person was driving, because otherwise the unsatisfying answer is "when the officer has probable cause," and the point at which probable cause will arise depends on the state's definitions of crimes. – phoog Aug 1 '19 at 7:50

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