A recent appellate decision by the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District clarifies a person's duty to provide accurate identification information to law enforcement officers. The case, Sauz v. State of Florida, reversed a lower court conviction for resisting an officer without violence charge based on Sauz lying about his identity.
Sauz was charged with lewd battery after he had sex with a 13-year-old girl. The investigating detective went to Sauz's home to talk to him. The detective was dressed in plain clothes. The detective indicated she did not go to the house with the intent to detain Sauz but only to see if he would cooperate with the investigation. When the detective inquired, Sauz gave a false name and date of birth and told the detective Sauz was in Texas. Based on Sauz lies, he was convicted of the resisting an officer without violence charge.
The appellate court reversed the decision and ordered an acquittal on the charge. The court found that Sauz did not resist an officer because he was not under arrest nor was he detained. Defense attorney John Musca explained, "The court was clear that the key issue was that the officer went to the house merely to see if Sauz would voluntarily cooperate with the investigation. The meeting was more in the nature of a voluntary conversation between the officer and Sauz." Musca said that if Sauz had lied after being forcibly detained or arrested by the officer, the result would likely have been different.
Musca said that if you are faced with a meeting with a law enforcement officer about a criminal investigation, you should invoke your right to consult with an attorney. While this case shows that you do not necessarily need to identify yourself to an officer unless you are detained. The question of whether you are being detained or in custody is one that is open to interpretation. The best course is not to say anything until you have your legal counsel to advise you said Musca.