PA Appellate Court Again Recognizes False ID to Law Enforcement Statute Requires Police to Explicitly Inform Defendant That They Are the Subject of an Official Investigation

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

False Identification to Law Enforcement 

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has just decided the case of Commonwealth v. Kitchen. In Kitchen, the court once again recognized that Pennsylvania’s False Identification to Law Enforcement Statute requires the Commonwealth to prove that the officer specifically informed the defendant that he or she was the subject of an official investigation prior to the defendant providing false identifying information to the officer. The court once again rejected the Commonwealth’s argument, which has been made repeatedly in prior cases, that the Commonwealth may prove a violation of the statute by showing that a defendant should have inferred the existence of an official investigation.

Commonwealth v. Kitchen

In Kitchen, Philadelphia police pulled the defendant over for making a right turn without activating her turn signal. The defendant pulled over, and police approached the vehicle. The officer testified that he asked the defendant for her license, registration, and insurance. The defendant did not have any paperwork for the vehicle, and she told the officer that she had rented the car. She also could not provide any paperwork for the car rental. After failing to provide any paperwork to the officer, the defendant gave the officer a fake name.

After the fake name she gave came back as a person with a suspended driver’s license, the officer decided to impound the vehicle. The officer used Philadelphia’s Live Stop procedure and called the Parking Authority to come tow the car. The officer removed the defendant from the car and conducted an inventory search of it. The officer found 76 packets of crack cocaine during the inventory search as well as a driver’s license with a different name on it from the name that the defendant had provided. The officer found additional packets of cocaine and some money throughout the car.

After finding more drugs and what may have been the defendant's real driver's license, the officer questioned the defendant further about her name. He told her that he believed that the name she had previously provided was actually the name of her girlfriend and that he had discovered that both the name provided and the name on the driver’s license he had found had suspended licenses. By this point, he had removed her from the vehicle and placed her in handcuffs, but she continued to give a fake name. The officer eventually arrested the defendant and charged her with Possession with the Intent to Deliver, False Identification to Law Enforcement, and related charges.

Is It a Crime to Give a Police Officer a Fake Name? 

The defendant was found guilty of all charges in the trial court after the trial court ruled that she should have inferred from the circumstances that she was under official investigation for a violation of law. The defendant appealed, and the Superior Court reversed the conviction for False ID to Law Enforcement. Pennsylvania’s False ID statute simply does not make it a crime to merely provide police with a fake name. Instead, the statute provides:

A person commits an offense if he furnishes law enforcement authorities with false information about his identity after being informed by a law enforcement officer who is in uniform or who has identified himself as a law enforcement officer that the person is the subject of an official investigation of a violation of law.

Thus, the statute requires that a defendant first be informed that the person is the subject of an official investigation of a violation of law. Trial courts and prosecutors have frequently tried to argue that defendants should be expected to infer that they are under official investigation for a violation of law from the circumstances, meaning that if a defendant is placed in handcuffs and interrogated by police officers, the defendant should realize that they are under investigation and therefore be able to violate the statute. The courts have rejected this theory repeatedly. Instead, as the court again recognized in Kitchen, the statute requires the police to actually speak to the defendant and explicitly tell them that they are under official investigation for a violation of law. If the officer does not testify to having made that statement to the defendant, then a defendant cannot be properly convicted of False ID to Law Enforcement for providing a fake name or other incorrect identifying information. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had already reached this conclusion in the case of In re D.S., and here, the Superior Court found that the rule still applies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction for false identification to law enforcement.

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