You may already have heard or read about country singer Zack Bryan's arrest by an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer. As is often the case in today’s day and age, Mr. Bryan later apologized for his behavior in a lengthy post on social media.
This article is not about the arrest or even a commentary on the wisdom of challenging a police officer to take you to jail. Mr. Bryan’s social media mea culpa will suffice. It was his mention of being handcuffed by a police officer a few days earlier when he refused to give his address that we will focus on instead.
Do you know what information you are legally required to give to a police officer who stops you? If you don’t know or are unsure, your eyes are right where they need to be. Take a few moments to read on and learn about your rights and obligations when stopped by the police in Oklahoma.
Can a law enforcement officer ask you for identification?
An encounter with a police officer usually includes a request to identify yourself. If you refuse to do so, or as in the case of Mr. Bryan, refuse to give the officer your address, what occurs next depends on where you live and the circumstances of the encounter.
Some states have laws that require you to identify yourself when requested by a police officer. These are compulsory identification laws or, more commonly called, “stop and identify” laws. A failure to identify could end in handcuffs and criminal charges.
However, Oklahoma is not a compulsory identification state. Unless you are operating a motor vehicle or police suspect you of engaging in criminal activity, you can decline a request from anyone, including a member of law enforcement, to produce identification. Perhaps an overzealous prosecutor will simply charge you with obstructing an officer, but your defense attorney will hopefully have a bit of ammunition when arguing on your behalf.
Producing a license when driving a vehicle
The law in Oklahoma requires that you possess a license when driving a motor vehicle and produce it when requested by a police officer. It’s a different situation than encountering a police officer as you walk home from work or school. That’s when the absence (or existence) of a stop-and-identify law might apply.
You must give your driver’s license to a police officer during a traffic stop, but you have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle. Asking drivers to consent to an officer searching their vehicle circumvents the constitutional requirement that police must have probable cause to believe a search would produce evidence of a crime and probable cause to begin a search in the first place.
If asked to consent to a search, you can politely decline. When unsure what to do, ask an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney for advice and guidance. Since law enforcement will unlikely allow you to "phone a friend" when seeking consent to search, it’s probably best to simply err on the side of preserving your constitutional rights.
Police investigations and a request that you provide I.D.
Alternatively, suppose you are not driving a car and encounter a police officer in Oklahoma. In that case, the general rule is that you cannot be compelled to provide identification or submit to questioning. An exception to the general rule is when a police officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you are committing, have committed, or are about to commit a crime.
The United States Supreme Court recognized the need for police to conduct investigations of activity that looks suspicious even though they lack evidence proving criminal activity. For example, if you match the description of someone suspected of committing a burglary nearby, a police officer seeing you on the street can stop and question you.
The reason is that the description creates a reasonable suspicion in the officer's mind that you are the person the police are looking for in connection with the burglary. Under those circumstances, you can be detained and compelled to identify yourself as police continue their investigation into the crime.
There is also an argument that, since police have the constitutional authority to lie to you, they could approach and try to “spook” you into speaking with them in hopes of developing probable cause to move forward with their end goal. However, if you politely let them know you are not interested in speaking with them and attempt to leave the encounter calmly, the officer will then have to either allow you to leave or “detain” you. That decision on the part of the officer could then bring into play your right to remain silent since you would then no longer be “free to leave.”
A criminal defense attorney can help
If you are detained or arrested, any potential law enforcement questioning would likely need to be prefaced with the officer reading your your Miranda rights. Do yourself a favor and kindly explain that you wish to have an attorney, and you will not answer any other questions.
When an encounter with the police leads to handcuffs and potential criminal charges, don’t take to social media. Instead, contact an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney. Let someone skilled in that area of the law do the talking for you.