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Suppose a person is walking in a park and gets stopped by park staff, who claim that the person is trespassing (or is doing something else illegal). The person then gets into the driver seat of their car to keep warm but does not drive away (for whatever reason--maybe staff refuse to open the exit gate to let the car through or maybe the person was invited onto the property and was never asked to leave). The person leaves the car off. Police arrive and ask the person for a driver license. The police are not citing or arresting the person and are not investigating a traffic infraction. Does this person have to provide driver license? Does it matter if the car is on?

Assume this is in the USA, and assume it is in a state without a general requirement to provide an ID. If it helps, assume it is New York.

Edit: the New York assumption made the question fairly uninteresting.

  • How did the car get to the parking lot? Did you drive it there, or did someone else (who has a valid driving license) drive it there and drop you off? – Brandin Oct 29 at 10:58
  • People often confuse ID and driver's licenses, not least because driver's licenses are the principle form of identification in most of the US and many other places. You can distinguish a request for ID from a request for a driver's license by asking whether a passport would satisfy the request. For someone who has been stopped for speeding, the answer should be no. For someone who is suspected of committing a crime, found sitting in a car but not operating the car, the answer should be yes. – phoog Oct 29 at 15:57
  • But the question here would be the opposite. Would showing a driver license be required if it is requested? – Randy Cragun Oct 29 at 19:57
  • Brandin, suppose that the person did drive the car into the park but that the police have no immediate evidence of that other than that the person is sitting in the car. – Randy Cragun Oct 29 at 19:59
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New York has a "stop and identify" law which says that

a police officer may stop a person in a public place located within the geographical area of such officer's employment when he reasonably suspects that such person is committing, has committed or is about to commit either (a) a felony or (b) a misdemeanor defined in the penal law, and may demand of him his name, address and an explanation of his conduct.

However, there is no requirement to carry an identifying document or to prove your verbal statements of identity. For that matter, there is no requirement that you have your license in your possession when driving, you simply have to be duly licensed. In this case, the officer has reasonable suspicion of a crime, so you do have to tell him your name, address, and what you were doing.

In Washington, there is no stop-and-identify law, so you don't even have to tell the police who you are. There does exist a requirement to identify yourself if you are stopped for an traffic infraction:

(1) Any person requested or signaled to stop by a law enforcement officer for a traffic infraction has a duty to stop.

(2) Whenever any person is stopped for a traffic infraction, the officer may detain that person for a reasonable period of time necessary to identify the person, check for outstanding warrants, check the status of the person's license, insurance identification card, and the vehicle's registration, and complete and issue a notice of traffic infraction.

(3) Any person requested to identify himself or herself to a law enforcement officer pursuant to an investigation of a traffic infraction has a duty to identify himself or herself and give his or her current address.

However, the proposed scenario does not fall under this requirement because you weren't stopped. Also note that the limited ID law of Washington does not compel you to provide a document, it compels you to provide information.

It is a misdemeanor to drive without a valid Washington license, but it is only an infraction to drive having been issued a license but not having it in your possession, as long as you provide an alternative ID document. So if you drive without a license in WA and are stopped, you have to show an ID document or suffer the misdemeanor alternative. But again, in this scenario you were not driving and were not stopped, you will not be forced to provide a document. Because driving without a license is a misdemeanor and the officer did not observe you driving, under Washington's arrest without warrant law, he cannot arrest you for suspicion of having committed the misdemeanor of driving without a license. (The arrest without warrant law is a bit more complicated, see the 11 exception subsections, none of which apply here).

If your goal is to try to be forced to show your driver's license, you might try Indiana, where the law says

A person who knowingly or intentionally refuses to provide either the person's: (1) name, address, and date of birth; or (2) driver's license, if in the person's possession; to a law enforcement officer who has stopped the person for an infraction or ordinance violation commits a Class C misdemeanor.

But again, you were not stopped for an infraction or ordinance violation, so you may keep your license in your wallet.

  • The officer can ask your name with cause in any state. – Putvi Oct 29 at 18:24
  • It seems that New York was a bad choice for the question. Can we try a state without a stop and identify law and that does require carrying a driver license while driving? That makes the question more interesting. – Randy Cragun Oct 29 at 19:58
  • Warning, things expand rapidly. About half of the states have a law and they differ substantially, ranging over "permission to request" to "obligation to provide", and none of this has been submitted to SCOTUS. – user6726 Oct 29 at 20:13
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    I think one prong of the question many have been whether or not sitting in the drivers seat of a parked car carried an implication of driving. – George White Oct 29 at 23:43
  • Sure, but even if it's reasonable to suspect that he may have been driving, that doesn't put this in the sphere of obligatory ID requirements. Driving is not illegal. We need a trigger wrong-doing for the obligation to identify. – user6726 Oct 29 at 23:56
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Long story short, the police can ask you your name if they have a reason in any state.

For example if they are chasing someone matching your description, they can ask you to identify yourself, etc, etc.

If they just stop you for no reason you can refuse unless you are in a state that legally requires you to answer.

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