Does Virginia Have a Stop and Identify Law?

"Stop and identify statutes" require that individuals who are stopped by police identify themselves. Virginia does not have a stop and identify statute.

Imagine you’re walking down a city street at night. You have your hood up and hands in your pockets. A police officer stops you and asks to see your identification.

Do you have to show them?

Many states use certain “stop and identify” laws to dictate what rights you have during such an encounter.

However, these can vary widely based on the state you live in.

In this article, we’ll answer the question of whether or not Virginia has a stop and identify law.

Stop and Identify in Virginia: The Basics

Police officer stopping the driver of a vehicle and questioning him over an alleged offence through the open window of the car

What exactly are “stop and identify” laws?

There are two general scenarios where you may be required by law to provide identification to a law enforcement agent during a stop:

  1. First, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a crime is, has been, or will be committed by an individual.
  2. Second, under the officer’s own discretion as provided by a codified stop and identify law.

Stop and identify laws, then, are laws that allow police officers to stop an individual and ask for identification, even if they do not have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person has committed a crime.

Virginia itself does not have a stop and identify law.

However, some jurisdictions within Virginia have ordinances that require certain things during a stop.

For this reason, you should check whether such an ordinance exists in your city or county.

For example, in Arlington:

“It shall be unlawful for any person at a public place…to refuse himself by name and address at the request of a uniformed [or un-uniformed] police officer…if the surrounding circumstances are such as to indicate to a reasonable man that the public safety requires such identification.”

Arlington County Code § 17-13(C)

In this way, unless your local ordinances specifically say differently, you generally don’t have to provide your name, birth date, or any other form of identification to a police officer unless you’re currently being detained by the officer, as described below.

Consensual Encounters vs. Investigative Stops in Virginia

A police dog sitting next to his handler.

Most often, the question of “do I need to show ID” depends on one central question: is the officer actually detaining you, or are they simply questioning you?

Every encounter with the police falls on a sliding scale of escalation, ranging from voluntary exchanges of information to detainment and eventual arrest.

Your rights in any particular situation depend on how the officer is escalating the situation.

Consensual Encounters

You may have heard people on TV asking whether or not they’re “free to go” during a police stop.

The reasoning behind this question is that an officer can engage anyone in conversation, but they can’t legally detain someone without cause.

If the officer responds that you’re free to go, you’re simply being casually engaged in conversation with the officer, and there’s no requirement for you to provide identification.

This is true even if you are in a state with a “stop and identify” law as described above.

If you are free to go, do so! It’s best to avoid any unnecessary interactions with the officer that could lead to you being detained.

Investigative Stops

If the circumstances lead a police officer to reasonably believe that you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime, the officer can legally detain you until they can confirm or eliminate their suspicions.

This authority to briefly stop you goes back to an important Supreme Court case from 1967—Terry v. Ohio.

This case set the precedent that a police officer can stop and question a person if the police officer is “…performing a legitimate function of investigating suspicious conduct.”

These types of stops are known as either “Terry stops” (after the court case) or “investigative stops.”

During a “Terry stop,” an officer can legally ask you for identification, as well as frisk you for weapons.

Other Exceptions: When You’re Required to Show ID

American Green Card - United States Permanent Residency Card Closeup.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to carry any identification as long as you’re simply walking around your neighborhood.

Further, you (usually) don’t need to show identification or even give your name to the police if you’re only being engaged in a consensual encounter.

However, there are a few other circumstances where you must carry specific identification with you while you’re out and about.

Operating a Motor Vehicle

According to Virginia Code § 46.2-104, anyone who is operating a motor vehicle must follow a few basic rules.

In regards to this discussion on identification laws, this code section requires that you:

  • Stop your vehicle when a law enforcement officer gives the signal and shows his or her badge.
  • Show your driver’s license or permit to the officer if asked.
  • Show the officer your vehicle’s registration.

So, when a police officer stops you in a vehicle, you are required by law to show ID.

If you don’t, the officer can give you a ticket for failure to carry a license, driving without a license, or a number of other crimes.

Green Card Holders

If you are currently residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident (i.e. if you “have a green card”), you are required by federal law to keep your green card with you at all times.

Failure to do so is actually a federal misdemeanor.

However, beyond providing your identifying information or State ID during a legal stop, you don’t have to answer questions regarding your legal status to police officers.

Local Laws May be Different

Again, while it’s true that Virginia doesn’t have a state-wide stop and identify law, it’s important to note that laws can differ in different localities.

Some local governments may pass a stop and identify ordinances on their own.

Therefore, it’s important to know what the ordinances are in the jurisdiction where you live and work.

Recent News: The Real ID System

Man with shoulder bag and hand luggage walking in airport terminal

On a related note, the federal government will soon require new kind of ID, called a Real ID, in order for you to do any of the following:

  • Board a domestic flight
  • Enter a secure federal government facility
  • Enter a military base

These restrictions go into place on October 1st, 2020.

By requiring a Real ID, the federal government will be able to ensure that everyone entering these secure areas will have IDs that meet federal guidelines.

What does a Real ID look like?

The Department of Motor Vehicles issues the Real ID. These IDs look just like a regular driver’s license, but the DMV prints a star on the top right-hand corner.

This star tells them that you presented the proper documents and have met the requirements to obtain a Real ID.

How do you get a Real ID?

To qualify for a Real ID, you’ll have to provide the proper documentation, and you’ll have to pay an extra $10.

The documents you’ll need are listed on the DMV website.


Adult African-American man sitting in hall of airport and browsing smartphone while working with laptop

In Virginia, there are no stop and identify laws.

If a police officer stops you and asks for identification, you don’t have to show them your ID (unless it’s an investigative stop).

However, if you are driving a motor vehicle, are a Green Card holder, or are in a locality that has its own stop and identify law, you’ll have to show your ID to a police or peace officer who asks for it.

If you plan to fly domestically, enter a secure government facility, or go to a military base, you’ll also have to acquire and carry the new Real ID starting in October 2020.

It’s important to understand your rights regarding stop and identify and stop and frisk laws.

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime based on a stop and identify search, you should talk to a lawyer who knows the local laws where you were charged.

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A Client-First Approach to Legal Services

Ready to Speak With An Attorney?

We’re a Richmond, Virginia law firm with clients from around the world. Schedule your free phone consultation today and let’s talk about what we can do for you!