False ID Law Requirements

Comm. v. Kitchen, 2018 PA 52 (Mar. 9, 2018)

False ID Law Requirements

This appeal was heard en banc and arose out of Philadelphia.  The appeal focuses on the interpretation of the law defining “false identification to law enforcement,” 18 Pa.C.S. § 4914.  That law reads as follows:

A person commits an offense if he furnishes law enforcement with false information about his identity after being informed by a law enforcement officer who is in uniform or who has identified himself as a law enforcement officer that the person is the subject of an official investigation of a violation of law. 

The gist of this appeal boiled down to whether a person must expressly be informed by a law enforcement officer that they are the subject of an investigation, or whether a person can be so “informed” by the attendant circumstances, negating the need of anything being said.

The en banc panel of the Superior Court, relying on its own precedent and that from the state supreme court, held that a person, indeed, must be expressly informed by law enforcement that they are under investigation to be convicted of the offense under Section 4914.  The Court reasoned:

The statute does not specifically state that a person may be “informed” of an investigation by inference alone.  In crafting the False ID statute, the legislature immediately modified the term “informed” with the phrase, “by a law enforcement officer.”  The use of the term “informed” in this context strongly suggests that the legislature intended a statutory element akin to a formal notice requirement, rather than imposing an additional mens rea element focused on the accused’s inferential knowledge about the presence of an investigation at the time he or she presents false credentials.

Here, though the appellant, Kitchen, provided police officers a fake name when she was pulled over, the Superior Court reasoned because Kitchen was not expressly informed that she was under investigation, then she could not be convicted under the False ID law.

Judge Shogan was the lone dissenter in this case.  She believed this interpretation of the law was absurd, particularly in this context of a traffic stop, because the Vehicle Code requires a driver to produce identification.  Here, Kitchen was the driver.  In Judge Shogan’s view, reading together Section 4914 of the Crimes Code and Section 6308 of the Vehicle Code (which requires production of identification), she could not fathom that the General Assembly would require that drivers must produce identification on the one hand, yet on the other hand allow for drivers to produce false identification with impunity.  For that reason she dissented.

(Judge Shogan wrote that she believed 18 Pa.C.S. § 4914 and 75 Pa.C.S. § 6308 were required to be read in pari materia.  Statutes are in pari materia when they relate to the same person or things, and statutes in pari materia must be interpretted together, if possible, as one statute.)