Obstruction by Disguise - False Name upon traffic stop

People v. Jackson

Does providing a police officer a false name upon being stopped in a traffic violation constitute the violation of MCL 750.217, Obstruction by Disguise?

On November 14,  1999, Michigan State Police stopped a vehicle for speeding.  The driver, Gregory Jackson, gave the officer his brother’s name. Unfortunately, his brother’s license was suspended at that time and thus Mr. Jackson was cited for driving while his license was suspended. Mr. Jackson failed to appear in court and later his brother was arrested for failure to appear. The brother informed police of Mr. Jackson giving a false name, which ultimately lead to Mr. Jackson being charged with obstruction by disguise.

Was it a Violation?

But did Mr. Jackson actually violate MCL750.217, Obstruction by Disguise, by giving a false name to police officers?
The simple answer is no, he did not. In People v. Jones, the Court held that the word “disguise” refers to a defendant’s physical disguise of his person. When determining legislative intent (what the lawmakers intend for the law to do), the Court will first look at the ordinary meaning of the words used in the statute.
If the words are ambiguous, then the Court will look outside the words of the statue to determine the legislature’s intent. The word “disguise” was determined to be ambiguous thus the Court first looked at the meaning of a word by examining dictionary definitions. Upon examining the definition in multiple dictionaries, it is determined that the meaning of the word “disguise” must include the element of Physical concealment.

What is Disguise actually mean?

Next, we look at the meaning of the word to an ordinary person, “disguise” is defined as a false appearance or physical misrepresentation of one’s identity in order to deceive another. In other words, common sense tells us that a disguise is directly related to our appearance, not just the use of words to deceive another about our true identity.
In this situation, Mr. Jackson only provided police officers with a false name, therefore, he could not have violated MCL 750.217, Obstruction by Disguise, as he did not physically conceal or alter his appearance in order to deceive police officers.

People v. Jackson

The People v. Jackson Court reaffirmed the Jones Court’s decision by concluding that MCL 750.217 does not apply to the conduct of providing a false or fictitious name to a police officer. The prosecutor should have charged Mr. Jackson with MCL 257.234(1)(h), Prohibited Conduct, which states that a person shall not “furnish to a peace officer false, forged, fictitious, or misleading verbal or written information identifying the person as another person.”

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