Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District of Nevada: Is a Suspect’s Refusal to Identify Himself Protected by the Fifth Amendment?
Michael D. Treacy
The Fifth Amendment grants the citizens of the United States, among other privileges and protections, the right to be free from compelled self-incrimination. Quite simply, a person’s testimony cannot be used against him or her in a court of law. This seems to be a basic enough premise that would not require further clarification. However, there are certain instances where a person’s words may seem innocent in one context and completely self-incriminating in another. For example, it seems highly unlikely that the act of introducing oneself to a stranger at a cocktail party or a work function would be considered testimonial or self-incriminating. People do this freely and without a second thought every day. What if the stranger were a police officer, however, and the person knew that when his or her name was run through the police computer it would alert the officer to unpaid parking tickets, an outstanding warrant, or could be used to create some other evidentiary link to another crime? Wouldn’t compelling this person to identify him- or herself create the environment where the answer, testimonial in nature, could be considered nothing short of selfincriminating and thus a violation of the protections granted by the Fifth Amendment? What if the person’s refusal to identify him- or herself resulted in a civil penalty or arrest?