Is lying to lawmen illegal?
September 13, 2012
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
Can a conversation with law enforcement be hazardous to your freedom? It all depends on an interpretation of your honesty.
Police officials in Atascadero said field officers have been arresting people for lying to them. The admission by Sgt. Gregg Meyer, the department’s public information officer, was contained in a Aug. 30 CalCoastNews article about police searches of people’s belongings in the city’s Sunken Gardens park area.
“We have arrested adults for lying,” Meyer said responding to inquiries about the department’s policies regarding warrant-less searches of backpacks and other belongings of people in the park.
That comment caused Atascadero resident David Broadwater to ask department officials for details about their actions in situations involving alleged lying, and to question the legality of such arrests.
Federal law prohibits lying to U.S. agents, but no such blanket law exists in California penal codes.
“Please inform me as to whether this quote is accurate, that it came from you, and that it’s true that such arrests have occurred,” Broadwater wrote in an Aug. 31 email to police. “Please inform me as to what law or laws were violated or allegedly violated by people lying. Please inform me as to what constituted the lies, i.e., what statements were made that were considered lies.”
After two such requests, Broadwater’s questions were answered in an email from Atascadero Chief of Police Jerel Haley.
“As you know, the written word can occasionally be misconstrued without clarification, and I applaud your efforts to clarify language used in the article… I believe I can adequately articulate what sections of criminal law (Sgt. Meyer) was referring to when answering the questions posed to him,” Haley said. “If you are specifically asking for a section of California law that makes lying in general illegal, then I know of no such section.”
Haley did, however, cite law sections “that specifically address times when it is illegal for someone to provide false information to a peace officer,” and said the “most commonly applied” is 148.9 of the California Penal Code.
“Any person who falsely represents or identifies himself or herself as another person or as a fictitious person to any peace officer listed in Section 830.1 or 830.2, or… upon a lawful detention or arrest of the person, either to evade the process of the court, or to evade the proper identification of the person by the investigating officer is guilty of a misdemeanor,” the penal code says.
Other laws deal with use of false names and dates of birth, or concealment of material facts to the DMV or California Highway Patrol officials.
“These and other similar issues are the types of crime to which Sgt. Meyer was referring when he alluded to the fact that our department makes arrests of people for lying,” the chief said.
Broadwater called the chief’s response “theoretical and hypothetical.” And that Haley failed to respond to his request for a list of the actual alleged lies the officers had used in order to make those arrests.
“I asked for specifics about the actual practices of the APD, not for some brief tutorial about law enforcement potentialities,” Broadwater wrote to Haley. “Recitation of your personal professional history, including arresting people for misidentifying themselves, is irrelevant in the context of this inquiry.”