Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
You do not have to show police your identification in California, unless you are being lawfully detained or arrested. Unlike some other states, California does not have a “stop and identify” statute that makes it a crime to refuse to identify yourself.
However, Vehicle Code section 12500(a) VC makes it a crime to drive without a license.
No, you do not have a general legal obligation to show your ID whenever a police officer asks to see it.
Unlike many other state laws, California law does not have a statute that forbids you from refusing to show your ID. These statutes, known as “stop and identify” or “papers please” laws, require you to show your ID if police ask for it. However, the laws generally state that police or peace officers are only allowed to ask for identification if they have a reasonable suspicion that you:
Some of the states that have “stop and identify” laws are:
Other states, like Arizona5 and New York,6 let officers who reasonably suspect criminal activity to demand your name, address, and an explanation of your conduct. These laws do not necessarily require you to provide your ID card to the law enforcement officer, though.
You are legally required to provide your driver’s license and proof of insurance if a police officer asks for it. This often happens at a traffic stop. You have to provide it to show that you have a license to drive.
The driver’s license does not have to be issued by the state of California. It can be from any jurisdiction, so long as it:
Refusing to provide your driver’s license, or failing to carry it while driving, is a violation of California Vehicle Code 12500. You break this traffic law if you drive in the state and:
Driving without a license is a wobblette in California. These types of crimes can be charged as either
It is at the prosecutor’s discretion which type of charge to pursue.
Generally, first offenses are charged as an infraction. These tickets carry a fine of up to $250.9
If it is a subsequent offense, or if the prosecutor decides to pursue misdemeanor charges, driving without a license carries up to:
These penalties are lower than for the similar offense of driving on a suspended license. This offense is more severe because it means that your driver’s license was suspended – not that you did not have one. It is more severe because licenses are only suspended if you committed a serious traffic violation, like driving under the influence (DUI).
Driving a motor vehicle on a suspended license is always a misdemeanor offense. Convictions always carry up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
If you are a passenger in a vehicle that has been pulled over by police, you do not have a legal obligation to provide identification. Any driving infraction is the responsibility of the driver. Without probable cause to suspect you of an infraction, police do not have a valid reason to see your ID.
In California, non-drivers cannot be lawfully arrested solely for refusing to provide identification to a police officer. However, police officers in the state have been known to make the arrest, anyway. While a criminal defense attorney can help you get your case dismissed quickly, the arrest alone can have repercussions. This can make it wise to provide police with identification, even when they have no right to ask for it.
In 2014, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) – the police union for the LAPD – claimed that refusing to provide ID to police amounted to the crime of resisting arrest.11 The claim rested on a 2004 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, a defendant in Nevada refused to identify himself to law enforcement. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction because Nevada does have a “stop and identify” law, and the law did not violate the Fourth Amendment.12
California, however, does not have a “stop and identify” law. This makes it different from Nevada. Without a similar law, refusing to identify yourself is not, alone, justification for an arrest.13
Nevertheless, California police may still think that they can arrest you for refusing to provide an ID. This can pose a significant problem if you are:
If you are on probation, you have to comply with the terms of your release. One of these terms is almost always that you do not get arrested, again. If you are on probation and get arrested, even if it is an unlawful arrest, it can trigger a probation violation hearing. Even though it is not against the law, refusing to give a police officer your ID can land you in serious legal trouble if you are a probationer. If the probation violation hearing does not go well, probation may be revoked and you can be sent to jail, all over an unlawful arrest.
Non-citizens can also suffer from an arrest, even an unlawful one. Depending on your status, any arrest can trigger the immigration or deportation process.
If an arrest is made, police will take your ID card and collect identifying information during the booking process. At this point, you can refuse to answer questions and demand a criminal defense attorney.
In California, it is a crime to either:
These offenses cover providing a fake ID, or telling an officer incorrect identifying information, like:
Both of these offenses are misdemeanors. They carry up to:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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