In California, if a law enforcement officer detains you and asks you to identify yourself, you are legally obligated to answer them truthfully. As tempting as it may be, if you falsely identify yourself to evade the police investigation, you're committing a crime.
California Penal Code 148.9 PC makes it a misdemeanor offense to provide false identifying information to a peace officer knowingly. You could face up to 6 months in jail if you're convicted of this crime.
Of note is that you generally don't have to identify yourself to the police unless it's part of lawful detention or arrest. However, you could be criminally charged under this statute if you identify yourself and give false information.
PC 148.9 says, “Anyone who falsely represents or identifies themselves as another person or as a fictitious person to any peace officer listed in Section 830.1, upon 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 crime.”
Subsection (b) says that anyone is guilty of a misdemeanor for falsely identifying themselves if false information was given. At the same time, the officer is engaged in performing their duties as a peace officer, and they know or should have known that the person receiving the information is a peace officer.
Getting stopped and questioned by a law enforcement officer is stressful for some people. Some will panic and provide false identification to the officer when asked, either because they attempt to conceal their real identity or to maintain their privacy. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
Penal Code 148.9 PC Explained
As noted, PC 148.9 makes it a crime for "any person who falsely represents or identifies himself or herself as another person or as a fictitious person" to a peace officer in the context of being lawfully detained or arrested—and does so for evasion. Some specifics to know about this law:
- The law applies only in the context of a "lawful detention or arrest." If you have not been detained or arrested by police, you're not required to identify yourself;
- The law applies only to peace officers in the performance of their duties, provided you know or should have known they were acting in the performance of their duties. For example, suppose you lie to an undercover cop who didn't identify himself. In that case, you can't be charged with a crime because you can't purposefully evade an investigation if you don't know you're being lawfully detained;
- "Falsely representing or identifying yourself" refers to falsely providing any information that could be used to identify you—including giving a fake name, providing a fake ID, giving a phony address, giving a fake date of birth, etc.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Tim is pulled over by police for speeding and hands them a fake ID.
Tim can be charged with false identification under PC 148.9 because he knowingly misrepresented himself during a lawful detention.
EXAMPLE 2: James is arrested on suspicion of illegal drug possession. He's carrying no ID, and when police ask his name, he sarcastically answers, "The Tooth Fairy." James can be charged with a crime for purposely evading identification during an arrest.
EXAMPLE 3: Ginny sees a police officer in a bar. He's wearing a uniform, but he's off duty. The officer flirts with her and asks her name.
She says, "Tanya," and gives him a fake phone number because she's not interested.
Ginny is not guilty of the crime of providing false identification because the officer was not on duty, and she wasn't being detained.
What are the Related Crimes?
- Resisting arrest as defined under Penal Code 148 PC: Willfully impeding or obstructing a peace officer or EMT from the performance of their official duties;
- False impersonation as defined under Penal Code 529 PC: Posing under another person's identity for the purpose of improper gain (e.g., fraud/theft) or to do something to implicate that person in wrongdoing;
- False information to a police officer as defined under Vehicle Code 31 VC: this statute makes it a crime to give police a fake name, driver's license, counterfeit registration, or a known false answer to a question.
What Are the Penalties for PC 148.9?
A violation of PC 148.9 is a misdemeanor offense in California. If you're convicted of providing false identification to police, you could face a maximum of 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1000.
The judge has the latitude to impose a lesser sentence or to impose summary probation as an alternative to jail time.
What are the Common Defenses?
For prosecutors to get you convicted of a crime under PC 148.9, they must demonstrate that:
- You deliberately gave a false name or false identifying information to a peace officer;
- The officer had lawfully detained or arrested you;
- The peace officer was acting in the performance of their duties; and
- You knew that the officer was a peace officer.
Thus, many common defenses attorneys use will have something to do with refuting one or more of these assertions. Some examples are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had not been detained or arrested. For example, if you gave the officer a fake name before the officer officially detained or arrested you, you are not guilty of a crime even if you lied.
Perhaps we can argue that the officer was not acting within the scope of their duties. For example, you can't be charged with a crime under PC 148.9 if you gave a fake name to an off-duty police officer trying to intimidate you.
Perhaps we can argue that you were falsely accused. For example, maybe the cop was irritated with you over something you said and accused you of falsely identifying yourself as having a reason to arrest you.
If you have been accused of violating Penal Code 148.9 PC, contact our law firm to review the details and legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us for a case evaluation by phone or fill out the contact form.