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False ID to Law Enforcement in Virginia

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In Virginia, giving a false identity to law enforcement under some circumstances is a class 1 misdemeanor which can result in a maximum of 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,500.

There are several elements that the prosecutor must prove in order to establish that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth’s Attorney must prove that the statements were made with the intent to deceive. The statements must also have occurred after the person was lawfully detained and the law-enforcement officer asked the person to identify themselves.

With all these elements that must be in place for a false ID to law enforcement conviction, there are many ways that a defense attorney may be able to fight this charge. For example, there may be doubt about the lawfulness of the person’s detention: if the police officer has no reason to suspect that criminal activity occurred or is about to occur, that may be a good line of attack against the state’s case.

Intent to deceive

The fact that a person made a false statement is not itself proof of the person’s intent to deceive, but the judge or jury may use common sense to infer that the person intended to deceive when making the statement. Vaught v. Commonwealth, 2009 Va. App. LEXIS 503, Record No. 2090-08-3.

Lawful detention

There is considerable case law from the United States Supreme Court defining what it means for a person to be lawfully detained by law enforcement. Virginia courts follow these cases.

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) is one of the most important cases from the United States Supreme Court explaining when law enforcement is allowed to stop or “detain” a person. In that case, the Court used the word “seize” instead of “detain,” but stated that a seizure or detention has occurred when a law enforcement officer, “by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. at 19 n.16.

Terry also established the rule that the police may detain a person to investigate as long as there is reasonable, articulable suspicion that the individual has engaged in, is engaging in, or is about to engage in criminal activity. Id. at 27. This type of stop is commonly called a “Terry stop” today.

The test for whether a person has been detained is whether a “reasonable person” would feel that they are free to go. This determination is to be made by the finder of fact, either a judge or jury.

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