When Can the Police Force You to Identify Yourself?

You may have heard that when the police ask you who you are, you’re legally required to answer – or maybe you’ve heard that you don’t have to answer. This guide explains when the police can demand that you identify yourself and when you have to comply.

When Can the Police Force You to Identify Yourself?

The police can ask you to identify yourself whenever they’d like – but can they require you to show them an ID card?

No. The state of Illinois does not have a law on the books (as of this writing) that requires anyone to carry identification, and you can’t be forced to show an ID. Some people don’t even have identification cards, and that’s okay (though there are some organizations that will help you get an identification card if you don’t have one and want one).

So when can the police require you to identify yourself? Only when they reasonably suspect that you committed a crime or that you’re in the process of committing a crime and:

  • You’re in a public place
  • They identify themselves as police

When that happens, the police are allowed to ask you your name, your address and why you took certain actions. 

Related: What are your rights in police custody?

In most circumstances, you’re not legally obligated to answer them. (And if you do give your name, you must tell the truth – you can’t say your name is John Smith when it’s Steve Jones. If you fail to be truthful about your name, the state can charge you with impeding a police investigation, which is a crime.)

You MUST identify yourself and show your driver’s license upon request if you’re driving, though. Drivers are required to carry a license for this purpose.

However, under most circumstances, you decide whether you want to answer the police with your name and information; you have the right to remain silent and to ask to speak to an attorney. 

Related: Can I tell my lawyer the whole truth?

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