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Understanding Texas’s “Failure to Identify” law

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2024 | Criminal defense

If you’re stopped by police, whether in your vehicle or anywhere else, it can be a stressful and even frightening experience. Partially due to the panic that a traffic stop can inspire, when an officer starts asking questions, some people say too much.

Others err on the side of not saying anything or complying at all. They may be vaguely aware of their constitutional right not to answer questions without legal counsel present. Generally, though, no matter where you are in the U.S., however, you do have to identify yourself if an officer asks you to. It’s not a violation of a person’s rights to require this information.

When do you have to identify yourself?

Here in Texas, if you don’t comply with that kind of “request,” you could be charged under the “Failure to Identify” law. It’s a violation of that law, which was updated just last year, if a person “intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer:”

  • If they’ve been lawfully detained
  • If they’ve been lawfully arrested
  • If an officer has “good cause to believe [they’re] a witness to a criminal offense”

If a person is driving a vehicle, they’re required to show or give an officer their driver’s license when requested. It’s also a violation of the law to give an officer a “false or fictitious name, residence address, or date of birth.”

Not identifying yourself will only make things worse

Failing to provide a driver’s license at a traffic stop when asked is a Class C misdemeanor, which can carry a fine. Giving false identification can be at least a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a possible fine and jail time. Of course, things can get worse if a person becomes belligerent with an officer, threatens them or pulls a weapon.

What’s important to remember is that refusing to give an officer basic identifying information is always going to get you off on the wrong foot with them. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you could end up being arrested anyway for this offense – and you’ll likely appear to be guilty of something else. If you are suspected of a more serious crime, failing to identify yourself is only going to get at least one more charge added to your situation.

After providing requested identifying information, you should clearly but respectfully assert your right to remain silent until you have legal counsel present. Just staying silent isn’t the same as invoking this right. The sooner you get legal guidance, the sooner you can start protecting your interests as your case evolves.