The short answer is no, there is no legal requirement to carry identification with you at all times. However, as a practical matter, I would advise everyone to carry valid photographic identification at all times. Also, for purposes of verification, I would suggest that the identification be issued through the Department of Motor Vehicles, or some other government-sanctioned program, such as NYC I.D.
No one ever expects to have an encounter with a police officer, but that does not mean one will not take place. A person might find himself or herself involved in a traffic accident, or stopped by the police for any other reason. In those instances where a police officer has the discretion to issue a stopped person a summons rather that making a full-blown arrest, the first thing an officer checks is to make sure that the suspect has no outstanding bench warrants. The only way to do that in a manner that satisfies law enforcement concerns is by verifying a suspect’s identification. For law enforcement purposes, this is done by running the information provided by the suspect in the form of photographic identification.
Additionally, even if an arrest is made at the scene, for many charges, a Desk Appearance Ticket (“DAT”) may be issued, informing the arrested person of his or her court appearance date in lieu of being put through the system. Prior to issuing a DAT, the police go through a checklist of items to determine that the arrested person can, in NYPD’s point of view, be relied to appear in court as instructed. One of the first, if not the first item on the checklist, is whether the arrested person has valid photographic identification. I cannot begin to estimate how many clients I have met in my career who were needlessly put through the system just because they did not have identification with them at the time they were stopped by the police. Don’t let this happen to you!
Hopefully, you found this article helpful. Keep checking for future posts from Attorney Ezra C. Levy.