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Is Failing to Identify Myself to a Police Officer a Crime?

Can a police officer stop you on the street and demand identification? In some circumstances, yes. Under Texas law, when an officer has “lawfully arrested” or detained a person, it is a misdemeanor offense for the suspect to refuse to give their name, address or date of birth. Similarly, it is also a misdemeanor for someone who is lawfully arrested, lawfully detained, or a witness to a crime, to intentionally give a “false or fictitious name, residence address, or date of birth.”

Shoplifting Suspect Gets 59 Days in Jail for Giving Fake Name to Police

The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals here in Houston recently addressed a misdemeanor failure-to-identify case. The defendant, in this case, Rodgers v. State, was detained at a Wal-Mart after he was suspected of shoplifting. A Wal-Mart employee contacted local police.

An officer arrived at the scene. According to the video taken from the officer’s body camera, the officer asked to search the defendant’s backpack. When the defendant refused, the officer handcuffed him. The officer then recovered a knife from the defendant. When asked for an explanation, the officer said he had “detained” the defendant for safety because the defendant was “acting aggressive.”

The officer then asked the defendant to identify himself. The defendant said his name was “Tearrance Rogers.” His actual name was Fred Rodgers. After speaking with store employees, the officer advised the defendant of his Miranda rights and questioned him about the shoplifting. Another officer asked the defendant to again identify himself–warning that the defendant could be charged with misdemeanor failure to identify. At that point, the defendant gave his true name.

Despite this last-minute change of heart, the district attorney still charged the defendant with failure to identify. A jury found the defendant guilty. The court assessed a punishment of 59 days in jail, which the defendant had already served while awaiting trial. Nevertheless, the defendant appealed his conviction, arguing the evidence against him was legally insufficient.

The 14th District disagreed and affirmed the conviction. There was some confusion as to whether the officer had “lawfully arrested” or “lawfully detained” the defendant when he initially gave a false name. Prosecutors specifically charged the defendant with failure to identify following an arrest. And the officer testified that the defendant was only “detained” at the time.

But as the Court of Appeals explained, the jury was still free to conclude the defendant was actually under “lawful arrest.” In particular, the evidence from the video recording showed that the officer handcuffed the defendant and had probable cause to arrest him for petit theft. The defendant was clearly not free to leave. Although the defendant was never formally arrested for the theft itself–all of these events occurred inside of the Wal-Mart–the appellate court said the jury could still conclude the entire situation qualified as an arrest.

Contact Galveston Misdemeanor Crimes Lawyer Tad A. Nelson Today

A misdemeanor offense may not place you at risk of decades in prison. But it can still leave you with an undesirable criminal record. So if you are facing trial for a misdemeanor offense and need representation from an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.