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
“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?
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
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
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
“Your papers, please.”
Shannon is a senior majoring in technical journalism. Her column
runs every other Tuesday.