Rancher's Privacy Case Set Before Supreme Court

By  | 

A Nevada rancher who ran afoul of the law for refusing to identify himself to officers will have his day in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Monday in a case that will determine whether people have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names.

Justices will review Larry Hiibel's prosecution under a Nevada law that requires people suspected of wrongdoing to identify themselves to police or face arrest.

The issue split the Nevada Supreme Court, which sided with police on a 4-3 vote in the case stemming from Hiibel's refusal - 11 times - to give him name to officers in 2000 near Winnemucca.

He was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest and fined $250.

Hiibel, 59, whose ranch is located outside Winnemucca, said he believes he was exercising his constitutional rights in resisting an officer's demands for identification.

"I was convinced I had a right to remain silent," Hiibel told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

"Mandatory papers is completely alien to the American people. They shouldn't arrest people if they haven't got papers. It goes against the Bill of Rights," he added.

Hiibel was stopped on suspicion of drinking and driving and of hitting his daughter. Prosecutors later dropped a misdemeanor domestic battery charge, and he wasn't charged with drunken driving.

Conrad Hafen, a senior deputy attorney general who will argue the case for the state, said identification of a suspect can save lives and prevent crime.

"The officer needs that information for his own personal safety," Hafen said. "Does the person have a violent history or an outstanding warrant? Is the person wanted?

"The government has a legitimate interest in crime prevention. Our argument is that the government interests are so much greater than simply a person's right to say `I'm not going to give you my name.'"

But Hiibel's lawyers and supporters contend Nevada's law requiring suspects to identify themselves to police violates their constitutional rights.

"We don't live in Russia in the 1950s," said Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. "People have a right to be left alone unless they're doing something wrong."