Fri 26 May, 2023 Criminal Defense

Do I Have to Show the Police My ID?

New York has no laws that require you to provide the police with your ID. In fact, you don’t have to keep an identification card on you when you are out in public. However, as discussed in this article, sometimes it may be in your best interest to give the police your ID if they ask you for it.

When Can the Police Detain Me?

The law surrounding police encounters is complex, as constitutional, statutory, and case law—on both the state and federal levels—can impact the analysis of when the police can stop and detain a person.

Fortunately, people in New York enjoy greater civil liberties than people in many other states, as New York case law and statutes provide rules that the police must follow. Some of these rules provide New Yorkers with more protections than are provided by the United States Constitution.

Under federal law, police need reasonable suspicion to detain a person for a brief, investigatory detention. Under federal law, police can engage in conduct that falls short of a brief investigatory detention without any credible reason to be interacting with the person.

The New York Standard for Police Encounters

In a landmark New York State case—People v. DeBour—the New York Court of Appeals articulated four levels of police intrusion and the circumstances required to justify the police intrusion.

Although DeBour levels 3 and 4 more or less mirror the federal standards of reasonable suspicion and probable cause, respectively, DeBour levels 1 and 2 require the police in New York to have reasons to engage with people, even if the conduct falls short of a detention.

In New York, under DeBour level 1, the police need a credible reason to approach a person to ask questions. Under DeBour level 2, the police must have a founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot to ask pointed questions. 

Importantly, under DeBour levels 1 and 2, the police do not have the right to detain a person. For instance, if the police only have facts to support a DeBour level 2 intrusion—namely founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot—but the police do not have reasonable suspicion of a crime, then the police are not legally allowed to stop the person.

Unfortunately, the police do not always follow the law, and they sometimes will arrest people without having probable cause to do so. When that happens, you may be able to sue the police for their misconduct.

Regardless of whether the police detain you or not, ultimately you are not obligated to provide them with ID. If the police believe they have probable cause that you committed a crime, they are going to arrest you regardless of whether you provide them with your identification. 

Situations When You Should Give the Police Your ID

Although you don’t have to give the police your ID, sometimes it may be to your advantage to give them your ID when asked.

Car Encounter

If the police pull you over because they suspect you of driving while intoxicated, they will likely ask you for your ID. Although they will arrest you for DUI if they have probable cause to believe you are intoxicated while operating your vehicle, they could additionally charge you with unlicensed driving if you do not provide your driver’s license, as they would arguably have probable cause to conclude that you do not have a license to operate the vehicle you are driving.

In this situation, providing your ID would likely help you more than hurt you. First off, handing the police your license will negate any probable cause they could have to arrest you for driving with a suspended license. Second, it could make the police less likely to think you are being hostile or difficult. For instance, if the police are on the fence about whether they have probable cause to arrest you, they might give you the benefit of the doubt if you are nice and cooperative with them by providing them with your ID.

On the other hand, if you are combative with them or challenge them on their authority to examine your ID, you certainly won’t be making friends, and that could make the police more inclined to arrest you. After all, police officers are human too, and like anyone else they likely won’t respond well to disrespect.


If you are put in handcuffs and arrested, then you should give the police your ID. The reason for that is you will not be able to get a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket if the police do not know who you are.

A Desk Appearance Ticket or summons is essentially a slip of paper that orders you to return to court at some date in the future, usually a month or so after the arrest. Many charges in New York require officers to give you a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket. However exceptions to this rule exist, including that the police don’t have to give you a Desk Appearance Ticket if you don’t provide ID. 

You want to receive a Desk Appearance Ticket or summons if you are arrested because the alternative is to be booked through the system and escorted by the police to court. When you are booked through the system, you usually wait in a jail cell overnight and aren’t brought in front of a judge until about 24 hours after you were first arrested.

If you don’t provide your ID after being arrested, then the police cannot know who you are. The police may think you have a warrant for your arrest from some other case. Accordingly, they will take you to the precinct to fingerprint you to make sure you are not wanted. On the other hand, if you provide an ID, the police can quickly determine whether you have any warrants. If you don’t have open warrants, then the police might issue you a summons or Desk Appearance Ticket instead of booking you through the system, which makes things a lot easier for you.

Need Help? Contact NYC Criminal Lawyer Cody Warner

If you have been accused of a crime or were falsely arrested by the police, give NYC criminal lawyer Cody Warner a call for a free consultation. He can assess your case to determine the best path forward.