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Can I Be Charged With a Misdemeanor for Failing to Identify Myself to the Police?

Can the police stop you and ask you to identify yourself? The answer to this question depends on the circumstances. Section 38.02 of the Texas Penal Code creates the misdemeanor crime of “Failure to Identify,” which applies in two situations:

  1. The officer has lawfully arrested you, for some other crime, and demands to know your name, residence, or date of birth; or
  2. The officer has lawfully arrested or detained you, and you provide false information regarding your name, residence, or date of birth.

In either scenario, a police officer cannot simply walk up to your without justification and demand that you identify yourself. The officer must have probable cause to arrest you, or at least reasonable suspicion to detain you. Of course, it may not be immediately obvious to you if you are being detained, which is why you should always ask the officer if you are “free to go” before responding to a request for identification.

Homeless Man Sentenced to 90 Days in Jail for Giving Officer Fake Name, Birthdate

What you should never do is lie about your identity, as that can get you charged with a misdemeanor under Section 38.02 even if you are not prosecuted for the original crime that justified the officer asking the question in the first place. For example, a Texas appeals court recently upheld the misdemeanor conviction of a homeless man in Austin who gave the police a fake name. A local police officer observed the defendant panhandling in the streets, which violated a number of local Austin ordinances.

The officer proceeded to issue the defendant a citation for these infractions. The officer asked the defendant for his name and date of birth. The defendant provided false answers to both. After the officer checked official records and confirmed these were inaccurate answers, the defendant was arrested and charged with violating Section 38.02.

A jury found the defendant guilty of failure to identify, which is a Class B misdemeanor when it involves providing false information. (Simply failing to identify yourself without lying is a Class C misdemeanor.) The judge sentenced the defendant to 90 days in jail.

On appeal, the defendant argued the evidence against him was “legally insufficient.” Specifically, he challenged whether or not he was being “legally detained” at the time he provided false information to the officer. As explained above, a failure to identify only violates the law in a detention or arrest situation.

The Texas 8th District Court of Appeals held the defendant was, in fact, lawfully detained, as the officer was in the process of issuing the defendant a citation. The officer had “reasonable suspicion” that the defendant was violating a city ordinance by panhandling, and that was sufficient to support his condition for failure to identify.

Speak to a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Lawyer Today

Lying to the police is never your best option. If you have been arrested or charged with a misdemeanor offense, what you need to do is contact an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the proper steps to take next. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need assistance with any kind of misdemeanor or felony matter. Call (281) 280-0100