Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County

PETITIONER:Larry D. Hiibel
RESPONDENT:Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County, et al.
LOCATION:Meramec River

DOCKET NO.: 03-5554
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Nevada

CITATION: 542 US 177 (2004)
GRANTED: Oct 20, 2003
ARGUED: Mar 22, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 21, 2004

Conrad Hafen – argued the cause for Respondents
Robert E. Dolan – argued the cause for Petitioner
Senior Deputy Attorney General – for respondents
Sri Srinivasan – argued the cause for Respondents, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

Larry Hiibel was arrested and convicted in Nevada state court for failing to identify himself to a police officer who was investigating an assault. Nevada, and many other states, has a law that requires a person to tell an officer his name if asked. Hiibel challenged the conviction, claiming it violated his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. The state intermediate court and Supreme Court rejected his argument in affirming the conviction.


Did Hiibel’s arrest and conviction for not telling a police officer his name violate his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and his Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search?

Media for Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 22, 2004 in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 21, 2004 in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 03-5554, Hiibel versus the Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

A routine police investigation gives rise to this constitutional case.

The Sheriff’s Department in Humboldt County, Nevada received an afternoon telephone call reporting an assault.

The caller reported seeing a man assault a woman and they were in a red and silver truck on a place called Grass Valley Road.

The Deputy was dispatched to the scene and he found the vehicle meeting that description, pulled off to the side of the road.

A man was standing outside the truck nearby and a woman was inside it.

The officer told the man he was investigating a report of a fight.

The man appeared intoxicated.

The officer asked if he had any identification on him.

The unidentified man became agitated and insisted he had done nothing wrong.

Eleven different times the officer asked for identification and was refused each time.

The man began to taunt the officer by placing his hands behind his back and telling the officer to go ahead and arrest him and take him to jail.

The officer did arrest him.

We now know the man arrested his name, Larry Dudley Hiible, who is the petitioner in the case now berfore us.

Hiibel was charged with willfully obstructing the police officer in the course of his official duties, and the specific reason for the criminal charge was that he failed to identify himself.

Now, this is an offense under Nevada law.

Nevada law requires a person who has been stopped based on a reasonable suspicion to believe he is involved in criminal activity to tell the officer his name when asked to do so.

Hiibel was charged and convicted and sentenced for violating this requirement, and he was sentenced to pay a $250 fine.

The Supreme Court of Nevada affirmed the conviction and we granted certiorari to the State Supreme Court.

Hiibel argues that his conviction is invalid because it was obtained in violation of his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.

We reject his arguments and affirm his conviction.

The Nevada law in this case is an enactment sometimes referred to as a stop-and-identify statute.

Now, there is no claim that it is vague or imprecise.

It requires only that a suspect disclose his name when there has been a stop as authorized by Terry versus Ohio.

A Terry-stop is a brief investigatory stop authorized when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person who is detained is involved in criminal activity.

Now, the investigatory stop here was valid under Terry.

There seems to be no dispute about that.

The dispute is over the further requirement that the suspect identify himself.

We hold first that there is no violation of the Fourth Amendment when a law requires the suspect in a Terry-stop to disclose his identity.

Obtaining the suspect’s name in a course of a Terry-stop serves important government interests.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Knowledge of identity may inform an officer that a suspect is wanted for another offense or has a record of violence or of a mental disorder.

On the other hand, knowing identity may clear a suspect and allow the police to concentrate their efforts elsewhere.

Identity maybe particularly important in cases such as this where the police are investigating what appears to be a domestic assault.

Officers called to investigate domestic disputes need to know whom they are dealing with in order to assess the situation and the threat to their own safety in possible dangers to potential victims.

The request for identity has an immediate relation to the purpose, rationale, and practical demands of a Terry-stop.

The Nevada statute does not alter the nature of the stop itself.

It does not change its duration or its location.

A state law requiring a suspect to disclose his name in the course of a valid Terry-stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Next, petitioner contends that his conviction violates the Fifth Amendment prohibition on compelled self-incrimination.

We disagree.

The Fifth Amendment prohibition extends only to compelled testimony that is incriminating.

In this case, petitioner’s refusal to disclose his name was not based on any articulated, real, and appreciable fear that his name would be used to incriminate him or that it would furnish a link in the chain of evidence needed to convict him of a crime.

As best we can tell, petitioner refused to identify himself only because he thought his name was none of the officer’s business.

Even today, petitioner does not explain how the disclosure of his name could have been used against him in a criminal case.

The Fifth Amendment does not overwrite the Nevada law at least absent the reasonable beliefs that the disclosure would tend to incriminate.

The narrow scope of the disclosure requirement is important.

One’s identity is by definition unique yet it is in another sense of universal characteristic.

Answering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant in the scheme of things is to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances.

Still a case may arise where there is a substantial allegation that furnishing identity at the time of the stop would have given the police a link in the chain of evidence needed to convict the individual of a separate offense.

In that case, the court can then consider whether the privilege applies and if the Fifth Amendment has been violated, what remedy must follow.

We need not resolve those questions here.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada is affirmed.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion which is joined by Justices Souter and Ginsburg.