Must I hand a cop my license, or just show it?

I get this question a lot, and frankly, I am curious to know the answer myself:  

 If you have a dedicated sleeve in your wallet that holds your driver license (you know, the kind with a window so that you can display your driver license without having to remove it from your wallet), must you remove your license from your wallet during a traffic stop or during questioning when a police officer or highway patrolman tells you you must? 

 I’ve always suspected that the answer is “no” and that if you show your license as it is in your wallet sleeve/window that’s acceptable.  

 Some states actually do have laws that require you to “surrender” your license to the officer/patrolman during a traffic stop, but here is what I could find for Utah (pay particular attention to subsection (1)(b)): 

§53-3-217. License to be carried when driving motor vehicle–Production in court–Violation

 (1)(a) The licensee shall have his license certificate in his immediate possession at all times when driving a motor vehicle. 

 (𝗯) 𝗔 𝗹𝗶𝗰𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗲𝗲 𝘀𝗵𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗽𝗹𝗮𝘆 𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗹𝗶𝗰𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗲 𝗰𝗲𝗿𝘁𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝘂𝗽𝗼𝗻 𝗱𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝗳 𝗮 𝗷𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗰𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗽𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗲, 𝗮 𝗽𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗲 𝗼𝗳𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗲𝗿, 𝗼𝗿 𝗮 𝗳𝗶𝗲𝗹𝗱 𝗱𝗲𝗽𝘂𝘁𝘆 𝗼𝗿 𝗶𝗻𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗿 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗱𝗶𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻. 

 (2) It is a defense to a charge under this section that the person charged produces in court a license certificate issued to him and valid at the time of his citation or arrest. 

 (3) A person who violates Subsection (1)(a) or (1)(b) is guilty of an infraction. 

 The way I read subsection (1)(b), “display” is clearly not a synonym for “surrender” or “give” or “take out of your wallet and hand it over to me”. If there are other statutes, ordinances, or regulations that apply in this situation, I do not know what they are. 

 I can’t see a basis for being obligated to hand an officer your license under the general “stopand question (and possibly search) statute: 

§77-7-15. Authority of peace officer to stop and question suspect–Grounds

A peace officer may stop any individual in a public place when the officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe the individual has committed or is in the act of committing or is attempting to commit a public offense and may demand the individual’s name, address, date of birth, and an explanation of the individual’s actions. 

Here’s the law requiring one to have his/her license and registration with him/her when operating a motor vehicle, but it doesn’t require you to hand these documents to the officer: 

41-12a-603.  Operating motor vehicle without license or registration. 

Any person whose license or registration or nonresident’s operating privilege has been suspended or revoked under this chapter and who, during the suspension or revocation drives any motor vehicle upon any highway or knowingly permits any motor vehicle owned by the person to be operated by another upon any highway, except as permitted under this chapter, is guilty of a class C misdemeanor. 

41-1a-214.  Registration card to be exhibited. 

(1)        For the convenience of a peace officer or any officer or employee of the division, the owner or operator of a vehicle is encouraged to carry the registration card in the vehicle for which the registration card was issued and display the registration card upon request. 

(2)        For a vehicle owned by a rental company, as defined in Section 31A-22-311, a person driving or in control of the vehicle may display the vehicle’s rental agreement, as defined in Section 31A-22-311, in place of a registration card. 

This statute provides that one must “exhibit” one’s driver license (“operator’s license”) to a peace officer, but does not require one to deliver it into the officer’s possession: 

41-6a-401.  Accident involving property damage — Duties of operator, occupant, and owner — Exchange of information — Notification of law enforcement — Penalties. 

(3)        Except as provided under Subsection (6), if the vehicle or other property is operated, occupied, or attended by any person or if the owner of the vehicle or property is present, the operator of the vehicle involved in the accident shall: 

(a)        give to the persons involved: 

(i)         the operator’s name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle being operated; and 

(ii)        the name of the insurance provider covering the vehicle being operated including the phone number of the agent or provider; and 

(b)        upon request and if available, exhibit the operator’s license to: 

(i)         any investigating peace officer present; 

(ii)        the operator, occupant of, or person attending the vehicle or other property damaged in the accident; and 

(iii)       the owner of property damaged in the accident, if present. 

And there is this, for drivers of commercial motor vehicles, but it too only provides that one must “display” the license to the officer:

§53-3-404. Requirements to drive commercial motor vehicle

(1) A person may not drive a commercial motor vehicle, unless the person has been issued and is in immediate possession of: 

(a) a CDL license certificate valid for the commercial motor vehicle the person is driving; or 

(b) a valid CDIP license certificate in accordance with Section 53-3-408. 

(2)(a) A licensee shall display a CDL or CDIP license certificate upon demand of a justice court judge, a peace officer, a special function officer, a port-of-entry officer, or a designee of the division. 

(b) It is a defense to a charge under this section that the person charged produces in court a CDL or CDIP license certificate that is issued to the person and valid at the time of the citation or arrest. 

(3) A person may not drive a commercial motor vehicle if the person’s privilege to drive a commercial motor vehicle is: 

(a) suspended, revoked, or canceled; 

(b) subject to a disqualification; 

(c) subject to an out-of-service order; or 

(d) not medically certified as defined in Section 53-3-402. 

(4) A person may not drive a commercial motor vehicle if the commercial motor vehicle is subject to an out-of-service order. 

This statute uses the word “display” only regarding registration and insurance documentation (this statute is lengthy, so I only share excerpts of it):

§41-12a-303.2. Evidence of owner’s or operator’s security to be carried when operating motor vehicle–Defense–Penalties


(2)(a)(i) A person operating a motor vehicle shall: 

(A) have in the person’s immediate possession evidence of owner’s or operator’s security for the motor vehicle the person is operating; and 

(B) display it upon demand of a peace officer. 

(ii) A person is exempt from the requirements of Subsection (2)(a)(i) if the person is operating: 

(A) a government-owned or leased motor vehicle; or 

(B) an employer-owned or leased motor vehicle and is driving it with the employer’s permission. 

(iii) A person operating a vehicle that is owned by a rental company, as defined in Section 31A-22-311, may comply with Subsection (2)(a)(i) by having in the person’s immediate possession, or displaying, the rental vehicle’s rental agreement, as defined in Section 31A-22-311. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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