High School All Over Again

The Supreme Court has now decided that police can charge you with a crime for refusing to give them your name upon request. This reminds me of high school. About 2 years after my high school opened, a few months into my senior year, my high school decided to create and distribute photo ID cards for all of the students using our school photos. Alongside the distribution of these cards they created a new rule. The rule was that a student had to carry their ID at all times while on school property, and had to present the ID immediately upon the request of any member of the faculty. Punishment for not doing so started at administrative detention and went up with each offense. Ultimately you could get suspended for repeatedly refusing to carry and/or show your ID. Similarly my brother got a few days of in-school-suspension for refusing to give his name to a teacher who requested it. I was not a troublemaker, but I did find the rules offensive and had a slew of fake names ready for just such an occasion.

An excerpt from the dissenting opinion of Justice Stevens:

The Court reasons that we should not assume that the disclosure of petitioner?s name would be used to incriminate him or that it would furnish a link in a chain of evidence needed to prosecute him. Ante, at 12?13. But why else would an officer ask for it? And why else would the Nevada Legislature require its disclosure only when circumstances ?reasonably indicate that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime??7 If the Court is correct, then petitioner?s refusal to cooperate did not impede the police investigation. Indeed, if we accept the predicate for the Court?s holding, the statute requires nothing more than a useless invasion of privacy. I think that, on the contrary, the Nevada Legislature intended to provide its police officers with a useful law enforcement tool, and that the very existence of the statute demonstrates the value of the information it demands.

A person?s identity obviously bears informational and incriminating worth, ?even if the [name] itself is not inculpatory.? Hubbell, 530 U.S., at 38. A name can provide the key to a broad array of information about the person, particularly in the hands of a police officer with access to a range of law enforcement databases. And that information, in turn, can be tremendously useful in a criminal prosecution. It is therefore quite wrong to suggest that a person?s identity provides a link in the chain to incriminating evidence ?only in unusual circumstances.? Ante, at 12.

The officer in this case told petitioner, in the Court?s words, that ?he was conducting an investigation and needed to see some identification.? Ante, at 2. As the target of that investigation, petitioner, in my view, acted well within his rights when he opted to stand mute.

In my high school this was also the case. Once a teacher had your name it was a simple matter to retrieve your home phone number, your homeroom, behavior records, parents work number, etc. A faculty member who was not one of your current teachers would have no interest in your name unless they intended to punish you for something, or were attempting to determine if you were doing something wrong.

Perhaps it does not fit the category but this still feels like a thoughtcrime to me. They say they are punishing for a refusal to cooperate, but I would interpret it as a refusal to recognize the authority of the police to demand the information at all. A law like this could be used to find and identify those that do not believe the state has the right to know who they are and where they are going. In my high school the rule was often used to identify who the "troublemakers" were. It's not hard to imagine the same sort thing happening with the police, after all us anti-government folk are always "trouble" for the arbitrary authority of the police-state.

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"...require its disclosure

"...require its disclosure only when circumstances 'reasonably indicate that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime?'"

Don't forget, the system is set up to make us all criminals of some sort or another. Since nobody can ever hope to master the full legal code and its interpretations, and since the code frequently contradicts itself and/or is different depending on where you happen to be at any given moment, everyone of us every day of our lives stands in danger of falling afoul of some petty restriction or other. It's practically guaranteed that a full investigation of any one of us would find something to pick on.