Archive for the ‘misdemeanor’ Category

A Grits For Breakfast Commentary by Scott HensonĀ 

Finally, the committee approved a bill, SB 1175, that would allow police to give a Class C ticket for “failure to identify” when they detain a suspect. (Discussion of the bill begins at the 1:32:00 mark.) Currently, Texans don’t have to identify themselves unless they’re actually arrested, and it’s not a crime if you don’t do so. In practice, of course, police can’t write a ticket without the identifying information, so this would give them cause to arrest you and cart you off to jail (under authority affirmed by the US Supreme Court in Atwater v. Lago Vista, a Texas case).

What kind of situations are we talking about? Under what circumstances might you be “detained” when police have no cause to arrest you? The examples given were things like “taking pictures in front of a nuclear power plant,” but I think the new power would be used more widely than that, and mostly in non-terrorism related cases.

I wrote about a situation last year where I was detained on the street for, essentially, “babysitting while white.” Some busybody called 911 because they saw me walking down the street with a two-year old of a different race. Three police cars were sent to detain and question me over this grave matter. That was a formal “detention” and Sen. Patrick’s statute would have applied. More than a few commenters were offended that I wasn’t more cooperative with police – though I did give my name and address when asked, I refused to answer detailed or personal questions. I thought a lot afterward about why I reacted the way I did. Mostly it’s because the officer precisely didn’task for my name at first, but instead asked a series of questions aimed at determining whether I was some sort of child molester or kidnapper.

Sen. Whitmire asked why any law abiding citizen would refuse to identify themselves, and while I can’t speak for others, I know why I wouldn’t answer questions that day. As I said in reply to a commenter in that post, “Talking to cops who want to investigate you for false allegations of sex crimes has many potential negatives that simply refusing to speak to them wholly avoids.” When the conversation starts out with an accusation, it’s wholly justified and probably wise from the perpective of a potential defendant to not give police any information at all.

Whitmire himself identified another reason someone might not want to tell police who they were – if they were having an affair or some other “domestic situation.” There are many possible scenarios where someone might not want their spouse, their job, etc., to know their whereabouts, but that wouldn’t imply a crime was committed. The point is, in a free society, that person has free will to make bad choices as long as they don’t harm others or violate the law. “None of your business” is still a valid response.

To demand, “if you don’t have cause to arrest me, let me go” IMO is a reasonable exercise of one’s rights and shouldn’t require subjecting yourself to a check in the warrants database, which is the main thing this is really about at the end of the day. With more than 10% of adult Texans having outstanding traffic warrants, every time someone walks away without running them through the system, police miss a 10% chance they’ll owe money that can be leveraged from them with a trip to the jail.

This is not a slippery slope toward a police state but a straight chute. I’ve joked before how, during the Cold War, we used to consider it the height of totalitarianism that Communist police might stop an average citizen on the street, demand to see their papers, and arrest them if they didn’t comply. But that’s exactly the kind of power Sen. Patrick’s legislation would give police in Texas: Identify yourself or go to jail. “Can I see your papers, comrade?” That’s unnecessary. The law’s just fine like it is.