WASHINGTON — A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that people who refuse to give their names to police can be arrested, even if they've done nothing wrong.
The court previously had said police may briefly detain people they suspect of wrongdoing, without any proof. But until now, the justices had never held that during those encounters a person must reveal his or her identity.
The court's 5-4 decision upholds laws in at least 21 states, including Utah, giving police the right to ask people their name and jail those who don't cooperate. Law enforcement officials say identification requests are a routine part of detective work.
Privacy advocates say the decision gives police too much power. Once officers have a name, they can use computer databases to learn all kinds of personal information about the person.
The loser in Monday's decision was Nevada cattle rancher Larry "Dudley" Hiibel, who was arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor after he told a deputy that he didn't have to give out his name or show an ID.
The encounter happened after someone called police to report arguing between Hiibel and his daughter in a truck parked along a road. An officer asked him 11 times for his identification or his name.
Hiibel repeatedly refused, at one point saying, "If you've got something, take me to jail" and "I don't want to talk. I've done nothing. I've broken no laws."
In fighting the arrest, Hiibel became an unlikely constitutional privacy rights crusader. He wore a cowboy hat, boots and a bolo tie to the court this year when justices heard arguments in his appeal.
"A Nevada cowboy courageously fought for his right to be left alone but lost," said his attorney, Harriet Cummings.
The court ruled that forcing someone to give police their name does not violate their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches. The court also said name requests do not violate the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, except in rare cases.
"One's identity is, by definition, unique; yet it is, in another sense, a universal characteristic. Answering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant in the scheme of things as to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.
The ruling stopped short of allowing police to demand identification, like drivers' licenses.
The Supreme Court also Monday:
Allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of transferring a child molester from Wisconsin to work as a Roman Catholic priest in California.
Turned aside an appeal from the family of a guest murdered days after he admitted a secret crush on another man during the taping of the "Jenny Jones Show."
Turned down an opportunity to weigh whether a lower court was wrong to rule that Southeastern California's Imperial Valley has serious air pollution problems.
Refused to consider the appeal of a South Carolina death row inmate convicted of killing two third-graders during a shooting spree at an elementary school in 1988.