[PHOTO CREDIT: iStock / jaouad.K]
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Lake Legal News readers are invited to be the judge on this one – and we can all sit back and see whether this case survives more than 10 minutes in court. That is a) assuming it gets to court, and b) that by the time it might, the arrestee has not simply become so tired of jail food and stale air that all the fight in him has been vanquished.
Let’s allow the story to unfold as it does in the paperwork that accompanied Jonathan Beni Martinez to the Lake County Jail in Tavares, Florida, on Sept. 18, 2019:
“The Lake County Comms center received a call from the complainant Andrew Adams, advising that there was a suspicious male wearing a du-rag, who was passed out in his front lawn. Upon my arrival I [LCSO Deputy R. Debruno] made contact with the male laying in the lawn, who was later identified as the defendant, Johnathan Martinez. I asked the defendant why he was laying in the complainant’s lawn, and if he was okay. The defendant advised that he was feeling sick so he decided to lay down. At this point I requested EMS to respond to the scene so the defendant could receive medical treatment.”
So far, so good. Two thumbs up. Engine humming along on all six cylinders. However, to mix a metaphor, prepare for rough waters ahead as we return to our story…
“While EMS was en-route I asked the defendant” – though if I may so rudely barge in here, there was no ‘defendant-like’ activity up to this point; but I understand that this is standard police-talk – “if he had any type of identification on him and he advised that he didn’t. I asked the defendant if he could provide me with his name and date of birth so he could be identified, and the defendant provided the name Jason Martinez and the birthday of 12-24-1983. I provided this name and date of birth to the Lake County Comms center, and they advised that the[y] received no positive identification on a male subject” – Wait! How did Mr. Martinez get downgraded from ‘defendant’ to ‘subject,’ mid-story? Anyway – “matching that name or birthday. While the defendant was being transported by EMS to South Lake Hospital, it was discovered through the Lake County Corrections database, that the defendant’s real name was Johnathan Martinez. It was also discovered that the defendant was currently on probation… .”
The story now ends, as many stories do, with some good news and some bad news. The good news is, “[t]he defendant was treated and discharged from South Lake Hospital.” The bad news is – assuming you know your ‘Jasons’ from your ‘Jonathans’ – Mr. Martinez “was placed under arrest for F.S.S. 843.03 Obstruction by Disguised Person, and 948.06(1((a) Violation of Probation.”
It is about this time that you may remember that our LLN readers were invited to make the call on this one; but because not everyone attended law school, here are some helpful hints:
Do you remember Mr. Martinez’ “du-rag”? Surely that could not be his criminal ‘disguise,’ unless one intends to torture Fla. Stat. 843.03, reprinted here for your convenience:
843.03 Obstruction by disguised person.—Whoever in any manner disguises himself or herself with intent to obstruct the due execution of the law, or with the intent to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt any officer, beverage enforcement agent, or other person in the legal performance of his or her duty or the exercise of his or her rights under the constitution or laws of this state, whether such intent is effected or not, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.Fla. Statutes
Probably, then, the arresting deputy meant that “defendant” / “subject” / “defendant” Martinez “disguised” his true ambulance-riding identity by providing an incorrect name and date of birth? That must constitute the “obstruction,” no? Time for our LLN readers to take a crack at playing lawyer again:
As indicated at the outset, the State properly concedes error on the obstruction by disguise count. The evidence supporting this charge established that defendant gave the police officer a false name and date upon his apprehension. Such evidence, without more, is insufficient to support a conviction as a matter of law. E.g., Leland v. State, 386 So. 2d 622, 622 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) (holding that “a person does not commit the misdemeanor offense of obstruction by a disguised person by the sole act of giving, as here, a false name to a police officer upon being stopped by said officer”) (internal citations omitted). On this count, we reverse.Opinion excerpt from Diaz-Gonzalez v. State, 932 So.2d 528 (Fla. 3rd DCA, 2006)
Here’s more food for thought:
While conducting a traffic stop of a car in which appellant was a passenger, an officer asked appellant for identification. Appellant provided a false birth date and a name other than her current one. The investigating officer then arrested appellant for obstruction by disguise, under section 843.03, Florida Statutes (2009), and placed her in a patrol vehicle. A subsequent search of her purse revealed methadone pills in her possession. After being handcuffed, appellant resisted. These new law violations served as the grounds for a violation of probation. Appellant pled no contest to the charges, reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress.
At the suppression hearing, the court correctly concluded that appellant’s arrest for obstruction by disguise was illegal because she was neither under arrest nor subject to a lawful detention when she gave the false name and birth date to the officer. See § 901.36(1), Fla. Stat. (2009) (stating “[i]t is unlawful for a person who has been arrested or lawfully detained by a law enforcement officer to give a false name, or otherwise falsely identify . . . herself in any way, to the law enforcement officer . . . .”); Dubois v. State, 932 So. 2d 298 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2006). The court dismissed this charge.Opinion excerpt from Faith v. State, 45 So.3d 932 (Fla. 1st DCA, 2010)
So, listen. I’ve been around long enough to know that lawyers win cases that they never thought they would win, and they lose cases that they never thought they would lose. Throw in, on any given day, a highly-motivate prosecutor willing to make a single case his or her whole life’s work, and throw in a probation violation – generally considered to be a game of shooting-fish-in-a-barrel for a prosecutor– and maybe I end up being wrong on this one. But if I simply lie down on someone’s lawn ill enough to need a trip to the hospital, telling the police officer that my name is “Bugs Bunny” with a date of birth of “next leap day” should hardly wind me up in jail.
James Hope is a Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer who has been practicing criminal law in Tavares, Florida, since 1987. He has also been the Publisher and Executive Editor of Lake Legal News since 2009. He may be contacted at LakeLegalNews@gmail.com, or through his website at www.AttorneyJamesHope.com. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]