The list of illegal activities continues to grow. It seems that our government has nothing better to do with their legislative time than to create more laws, so we can pay more taxes, to hire more police officers, to make more arrests, which then requires us to pay more taxes to build more jails and more prisons. More more more. Pretty soon, aren’t we going to run out of other people’s money to pay for all this stuff?
It’s always good to hear of an instance when something is “not”, in fact, against the law. We’re going to discuss one such situation, and it involves lying to the police. Lying to the police is not illegal, depending upon the circumstances. Most people simply assume that we “must” tell the truth to cops, when questioned about such basic things as our name and identification. But, let’s not get this confused with failing to obey the lawful command of the police, that will get you a resisting an officer without violence charge. In D.K.D. v. State, the defendant (a juvenile, that’s why the court did not disclose his full name) was convicted of providing a false name to a law enforcement officer.
The law making it a crime to give false identification information to the police can be found in Florida Statute 901.36, which states that “it is unlawful for a person who has been arrested or lawfully detained by a law enforcement officer to give a false name, or otherwise falsely identify himself or herself in any way”. The crime is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail, and a $1,000.00 fine. If the false information causes some other person to be adversely affected, the crime upgrades to a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, and a $5,000.00 fine.
Now, let’s get back to D.K.D.’s situation. He was stopped by the police after running across a parking lot, “as though someone were chasing him. Appellant ran to a trailer used for storage of fireworks and peeked around the corner.” It was 2:30 a.m., making this suspicious enough for a few officers to approach and question D.K.D. about his behavior. Part of this investigation also involves gaining assurances that the defendant was not a runaway, so they also inquired as to his address, and mother’s contact information. Safe to say that D.K.D. gave them a wrong name, and wrong address. While driving to said fake address, D.K.D. fessed up, admitting that it was all a lie. At that point, the police arrested him for giving a false name or identification to law enforcement, in violation of Section 901.36.
In case you’re thinking that I just love to type things–there’s a reason why I typed out the first few lines of Statute 901.36–because the devil is in the details. After reading the statute typed above, can you figure out under what circumstances the statute make it a crime to give a false name? Of course you can, it’s found in the first line of the first sentence–“it is unlawful for a person who has been arrested“. So, if you’re arrested, it is unlawful to give a false name. Ok, was D.K.D. “arrested”? No. What other circumstances make it illegal to give a false name? Read the next part of the first sentence, which makes it a crime to give a false name when a person has been “lawfully detained by a law enforcement officer”. Alright, was D.K.D. “lawfully detained?” That’s the real question, because if there’s no arrest and no lawful detention–the statute doesn’t apply. Lie all you want.
How do we define the officer’s initial approach to D.K.D. at 2:30 a.m., when he was running around like a crazy person, peeking around the corner at the officers? That initial officer approach is defined as a “consensual encounter”, because the officers did not have any well founded suspicion that D.K.D. was committing a crime while running thru the parking lot. Was it weird behavior? Yes. Did the officers have a right to approach the kid and ask questions? Yes. But, did the kid do anything wrong? No. As such, there’s no “lawful detention” here. The court reasoned as follows: “The officers conceded that there were no 911 calls regarding the vicinity and no BOLO matching appellant’s description. From the record, we know only that the officer had a mere suspicion of something, and they had only vague concern of criminal activity because of the juvenile’s presence at 2:30 a.m. Their primary suspicion was that appellant may be a runaway. Even assuming that the consensual encounter became a detention, it cannot be construed as a lawful one because there was no well-founded suspicion of any criminal activity. …Accordingly, we reverse [the conviction]” Id at 899.
And there you have it. Legally lying to the cops. I don’t recommend it, but it’s legal.