In California, you can refuse to provide your identification to the police. California does not have a “Stop and Identify” or “Papers Please” statute that would require you to provide ID to the police upon request. The police cannot force you to show ID without just cause. If you are asked to provide identification, you can politely refuse, and then ask if you are free to go. If the officers tell you no, then ask “Can you tell me why you are stopping me?”
It is important to be polite in these situations, and to act respectfully. While you have the right to refuse a request for identification, doing so in an impolite manner could lead to an arrest. In addition, remember that even though arresting a person for failing to show ID would be a wrongful arrest, a police officer may still do it. Consider carefully whether you want to take that risk when deciding whether or not to refuse to show a law enforcement officer your ID.
There is an exception to the general rule that you do not have to provide your identification to the police. If you are driving, you are required to provide your driver’s license to the police if you are stopped. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor offense. Passengers do not have to provide an ID.
Finally, if you are arrested, you will be required to provide identification. Beyond doing that, you are not required to answer questions or provide information. You can and should exercise your right to remain silent and to ask for a lawyer.