Law and Disorder – 02/02/11

Do’s and Dont’s of your Identification.

By Isabel A. Suárez

Do I have to carry my I.D. with me at all times?

Dear Isabel,

I see the government intruding in my life every day.  My grandfather told me about Nazi Germany and how he always had to carry identification around with him to prove who he claimed to be. The police could stop him for no reason at all and require identification. I always thought this could never happen here.  However, the other day my wife and I were driving and I was pulled over for speeding. I was asked for my identification and issued a ticket. However, the officer also asked for my wife’s identification. She told him that because she wasn’t driving, she didn’t have her ID.  He gave her a hard time, and even threatened to arrest her for not complying with his orders. Do I have to carry ID with me at all times?


Frustrated Citizen

Dear Frustrated,

Personally I refuse to compare life in America to Nazi Germany even with all our defects. My take is that we Americans are spoiled.  Too often we take for granted the unprecedented freedom we enjoy.

Regarding your experience when stopped by the police, without any other factors, the short answer is that the officer was wrong.  As a passenger, she was under no obligation to answer any questions, to show identification, and by no means, to fear going to jail.

The law in Ohio is that a person cannot refuse when asked by a law enforcement officer to give her name, address and date of birth if the officer reasonably suspects one of the following:

-The person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.

-The person witnesses an act of violence that would constitute a felony; the felony causes, results in, or creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to a person or to property.

-Furthermore, any attempt or conspiracy to commit, or complicity in committing any of the aforementioned violates the law.

-It is not a violation to be asked personal questions, particularly date of birth, if age is an element of the crime that the person is suspected of committing.

In researching your question, I found many cases interpreting, expanding, contracting, confusing, and clarifying, and of course more state and federal statutes that need to be consulted, depending on the facts of each case.  One thing is for sure; if there is law, there are exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions.

So here is a suggestion: check out section 2921.29 of the Ohio Revised Code, it is simply named “Failure to Disclose Personal Information.”

Here are some of the ones that jump out at me: 2921.29(A) … “when requested by a law enforcement who reasonably suspects …” got to love the reasonable test.  What cop do you know is not suspicious of a crime being committed?  Were they born that way or is it environmental?

2921.29(A)(2)(a) “an offense of violence that would constitute a felony…” How would you know what constitutes a felony?  If you are merely a witness, how are you supposed to know whether a woman hitting her cheating a husband with a frying pan was committing a felony domestic violence? What if it is her first time? What if she has no criminal record of any kind?

2921.29(B) “a felony offense that causes or results in, or creates a substantial risk or, serious physical harm to another person or to property …” Sometimes, we just know that there is a pretty good chance that an act will result in a substantial risk of harm. The “serious physical harm” is pretty easy to identify depending on the weapon used.

2921.29(A)(1)(c) “…committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.”  Again, you have to determine whether there is a felony criminal act.  If someone “has committed” a felony, can you be sure who committed it?  Visual identification is notoriously unreliable.  If in doubt, watch “My Cousin Vinny” again, relied upon by the best legal minds.  The next part to consider is …“is about to commit a crime” – do not jump the gun on this one.  What if a person is about to commit a crime (if you know it is a felony crime) and, at the last minute, changes his mind?

Here’s my recommendation.  If you feel an officer was not just simply having a bad day, but was truly unprofessional, make note of their name and write a constructive letter to their superior.  Officers risk their lives to keep us safe, but it can never be done at the expense of the rights of citizens.

Buena Suerte

Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.

Legal disclaimer

The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.

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