Feb 292004
 
Authors: Shannon Baldwin

When the Gestapo ask for “your papers please”

It’s usually the same scene.

The people are clustered and frightened. Some begin to reach

within their coats, searching for what must be produced to avoid

being arrested. Then approaches the trench-coated authority figure

with the click-clack of his polished boots on the ground. Then

comes the request – polite, yet understood as a command not to be

dismissed.

“Papers. Papers please.”

Whatever authoritarian regime of a past era that scene belongs

to, the consensus among free citizens is that this sort of thing

could never happen in a country like the United States. Right?

Think again.

On March 22, the Supreme Court will hear a case that sounds more

evocative of that scene from those World-War-II-era movies than of

21st century America, and will determine whether choosing not to

produce identification for an officer – with no other “probable

cause”- is enough to get arrested.

The case involves Dudley Hiibel, who had been arguing with his

17-year-old daughter, Mimi, as she drove them both back toward

their Nevada ranch from the mining town of Winnemucca.

Dudley didn’t like the boy Mimi was seeing, and she angrily hit

her dad in the shoulder. Somebody in town called the police that

the two were fighting.

On a rural stretch of asphalt, Mimi pulled off the road to let

her dad step outside and have a cigarette while he calmed down. It

was then that Deputy Lee Dove pulled up and approached Dudley,

asking for some identification. Dudley, not having been the one

driving, had no reason to have his license, and not knowing why the

officer was asking, refused to do so.

Dudley asked if the truck was illegally parked and why the

officer wanted to see his ID, to which Deputy Dove replied that he

was simply “investigating an investigation.” Anyone in Dudley’s

shoes would have found this answer to be lacking in the “reasonable

suspicion” category that allows officers to ask questions to

determine if there is “probable cause” for an arrest.

But the only question the deputy asked was for Dudley’s

identification – which would seem irrelevant to the immediate

situation. But Dove continued (11 times) to ask for the ID, and

finally arrested a willing Dudley for “delaying a peace

officer.”

It would have seemed more reasonable if Deputy Dove had asked

about the argument or even talked to Mimi in the truck to see if

her dad had struck her as the caller had suggested. In fact, the

first time Mimi was even addressed was when another officer pinned

her to the ground and cuffed her after she began screaming “No”

upon seeing her dad being arrested. She was charged with resisting

arrest, but as there was no cause to arrest her in the first place,

this charge was dropped.

All battery and domestic violence charges against Dudley were

dropped, but he was still fined for refusing to show his ID to

Dove. Since there were no other real charges or “probable cause” to

bring against Dudley, the question remains: must a person identify

himself “if there are not grounds for arrest.”

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that “the individual’s

constitutional right to privacy was outweighed by officer and

community safety, expressing concern that terrorists could escape

detection if officers don’t have probable cause to arrest.”

Once again, the ominous “terrorist” (or “communist” – insert

whatever fear monger term you prefer) threat is allowed to further

chip away at our individual rights and civil liberties. But as news

comes out that authorities were given the identities of several of

the Sept. 11 terrorists a year and a half before the fact, then it

would seem that the authorities knowing the ID of terrorists (or

potential terrorists) doesn’t make anyone safer.

Let’s hope that the Supreme Court sides with Nevada’s dissenting

opinion in that “the right to wander freely and anonymously, if we

choose, is a fundamental right of privacy in a democratic

society.”

Otherwise, prepare to live in a country where you can’t go out

on an evening stroll without your identification, just in case a

trench-coated authority figure wants to ask that polite

request.

“Your papers, please.”

Shannon is a senior majoring in technical journalism. Her column

runs every other Tuesday.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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