March 23, 2004

A right not to reveal your name? Here's the nice website of Larry D. Hiibel who was convicted of a crime in Nevada for refusing to tell police his name. His case was argued in the Supreme Court yesterday. The state has made it a crime not to identify yourself to the police when they've stopped you under reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime. Linda Greenhouse reports in the NYT:
As a matter of Fifth Amendment analysis, one question is whether giving one's name is sufficiently "testimonial" to invoke the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. "The question, it seems to me, is whether a name itself has intrinsic testimonial consequences," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told [Robert E.] Dolan, the public defender.

If it did not, Mr. Dolan replied, "the government could require name tags."

Snappy answer to a tough question. But actually not that convincing: wearing a name tag would constantly reveal your name to everyone, but the question here is only whether you need to tell it to the police once when they have reason enough to stop you about the commission of a crime.

Quite aside from the particular Nevada criminal statute, there's the issue whether refusal to identify yourself can count toward the "probable cause" needed before you can be arrested, after the police began to question you with only "reasonable suspicion."

"Hiibel" is an interesting name. The double "ii" is quite unusual. And Hiibel seems to be a person with a strong sense of self--of the "I." He's litigating to the hilt the issue of keeping his identity secret.

UPDATE to point out an irony: Hiibel is becoming very famous for his outsized interest in remaining especially unknown.

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