Being pulled over by the police for a traffic violation is a stressful situation. You may be sitting on the road for a lengthy period of time while you are waiting for the officer to verify your license, registration and insurance information. The last thing you want to do is represent yourself as someone else to get out of a traffic ticket. Misleading or lying about your identity to a police officer is a crime that can result in fines, probation and even jail.
It is a criminal offense in Michigan to “[f]urnish to a peace officer false, forged, fictitious, or misleading verbal or written information identifying the person as another person, if the person is detained for a violation of [the Michigan Vehicle Code] or of a local ordinance substantially corresponding to a provision of [the Michigan Vehicle Code]. MCL 257.324(1)(h).
- The crime is committed If you tell the police officer a different name or produce an operator’s license, state identification card or any other written document that indicates you are someone else.
- It doesn’t matter if the person you are trying to impersonate is a real person or a fictitious person.
- Michigan does not have a general “stop and identify” law and, usually, you do not have to produce identification to a police officer upon request unless there is reasonable suspicion you committed a crime. However, the privilege of driving in Michigan includes the responsibility to adhere to the requirements of the Michigan Vehicle Code. MCL 257.311 requires a driver to possess his or her operator’s or chauffeur’s license at all times when operating a motor vehicle, “and shall display the same upon demand of any police officer who shall identify himself or herself as such.” The Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination does not apply to refusing to produce such identification, and there is no constitutional protection whatsoever to giving a false identification to a police officer.
The penalty for providing false identification to a police officer is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by a fine up to $500.00 or up to 90 days in jail, or both. For a first offense, the Michigan Secretary of State will suspend your operator’s license for 90 days. For a second or subsequent offense occurring within 7 years of the previous offense, the Michigan Secretary of State will suspend your operator’s license for one year.
While this statute penalizes verbal and written misrepresentations, it does not punish the driver for trying to disguise his identity to the driver. However, the Michigan Penal Code provides that “[a]ny person who in any manner disguises himself or herself with intent to obstruct the due execution of the law, or with intent to intimidate, hinder or interrupt any officer or any other person in the legal performance of his or her duty, or the exercise of his or her rights under the constitution and laws of this state, whether such intent be effected or not, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.” MCL 750.217.
The statute for giving a false or fictitious name to a police officer and the statute for obstruction by disguise are distinct. In People v Jackson, 262 Mich App 669; 686 NW2d 810 (2004), the state police stopped a vehicle for speeding and the driver, who had no written identification, stated his name was “Frederick Darrell Jackson”. The police officer discovered that “Frederick Darrell Jackson’s” license was suspended during a record check so the driver was arrest, given an appearance date for court and then released. The driver never showed up to that court date. The real “Frederick Darrell Jackson” was arrested six months later on the failure to appear citation, but the police were able to verify at that time that he was the brother of the driver who gave the false name after being stopped. The prosecutor charged the defendant with obstruction by disguise (MCL 750.217), but the case was dismissed by the district court because it was inappropriate under the facts. The prosecutor appealed all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, who returned the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals to decide “whether the obstruction by disguise statute applies only to physical disguise and whether providing a false or fictitious name to a police officer is conduct that comes within the purview of the statute.” 467 Mich. 939, 655 N.W.2d 229 (2003). The Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that the furnishing a false or fictious name does NOT fall under the obstruction by disguise statute and that the driver should have been charged under MCL 257.324(1)(h).
A misdemeanor charge will require the driver to appear in district court to be arraigned by the judge. The defendant will also have the right to a jury trial. Most importantly, the defendant has the right to hire a criminal defense lawyer to defend against this charge. The judges and prosecutors will not go easy on you if they believe you were being evasive with the police to get out of trouble. An attorney may be able to negotiate a resolution with the prosecutor that reduces the charge to a less serious offense. An attorney may also be able to negotiate a sentence agreement that may limit the penalty to fines and costs only, a short period of probation, or otherwise avoiding any time in jail. You only get one opportunity to defend a criminal charge appropriately, so do not leave getting a favorable outcome to chance.
If you or a loved one is charged with any traffic or criminal offense and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC to start your best defense today.