Do I have to give a police officer my name?

Do I have to give a police officer my name?

I was at the bar the other night with some friends and we noticed that a couple had gotten into a verbal argument and the staff had asked them to leave. On their way out of the bar, a police officer stopped the male and asked him his name. At first, the guy absolutely refused to talk to the officer at all and wouldn't give his name. At this point, the guy was not being disruptive. Finally, out of the blue, the guy comically said, "I wish to remain silent." I was really surprised by this so I really started paying attention. The officer conducted a brief investigation (i.e. talked to the female and made sure everything was alright), told the couple they were free to go, and they walked out of the bar. The guy never gave his name.

So I said to my group, "I think that situation was handled extremely well." This of course prompted a full blown conversation about civil liberties and officer safety. The main question was: do you have to tell a police officer your name in Texas?

The short answer: NO, as long as you are not under arrest.

What we were talking about is commonly referred to as "stop and identify" laws. A lot of states have these laws; however, Texas does not. You do not have to give your name to a police officer...THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART...unless you are under arrest. In fact, if you are arrested, it is a crime to refuse to give your name. And you CANNOT give a false name under any circumstances. If you are detained or are a witness, it is a crime to give a false name, address, or date of birth.

Some practical advice: These types of topics are difficult to deal with in. It is important to understand that just because you don't have to give your name doesn’t mean that the situation won't get much worse if you exercise this right. During a brief police encounter, the officer wields a remarkable amount of power - whether or not it turns out later that he was wrong or right. I agree with the legal reasoning behind Texas not having a stop and identify law. However, I'm not sure that I wouldn't just give the officer my name. Then again, if we give an inch they might just take a mile.

And what the average Joe ought to know!