Talking to police or criminal investigators can be a nerve-wracking experience. Desperate to end the encounter, you give the officer a fake name, or show a fake ID. Maybe you exaggerate your knowledge of certain information, or fudge the facts about another person’s suspected criminal activity. It may feel tempting to end a stressful police encounter by lying, but providing false information to law enforcement is a serious crime – and in some cases, could even result in felony charges. In this article, our Atlantic City defense lawyers will go over New Jersey’s laws against lying to police officers, supplying false documents, and interfering with criminal investigations.
Laws Against False Incrimination and Lying to Law Enforcement
New Jersey has adopted several laws which ban different aspects of lying or supplying false information to criminal investigators and police officers. Some of the relevant statutes are summarized below.
- J.S.A. § 2C:28-4 – This statute creates two distinct offenses:
- Falsely incriminating another person, which means telling an officer (or causing an officer to believe) that another person committed a crime when they actually didn’t. This offense is a crime of the fourth degree, which would be called a fourth degree felony in other jurisdictions.
- Filing a fictitious police report, which means either (1) reporting a crime despite knowing that such a crime didn’t actually occur, or (2) pretending to give a police officer accurate information when the information is actually inaccurate or nonexistent. This offense is graded as a disorderly persons offense, or DP offense, which is roughly equivalent to a misdemeanor in other jurisdictions.
- J.S.A. § 2C:29-3 – This statute addresses “hindering apprehension or prosecution.” There are no fewer than seven distinct grounds on which a person can be charged with this crime, one of which includes hiding somebody from the police. Another basis for this charge is suppressing or destroying any evidence which could lead to the suspect being apprehended, regardless of whether that evidence is actually admissible. Critically, N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-3(7) makes it a crime to “give false information to a law enforcement officer,” which couldn’t be clearer.
- Certain offenses under this statute are graded as DP offenses, while others are graded as fourth, third, or second degree crimes.
Penalties for Tampering with Evidence or Showing a Fake ID to the NJ State Police
Telling a lie to an officer’s face isn’t the only way you can get into legal trouble for providing law enforcement with false information. You can be criminally charged for interfering with any aspect of a criminal investigation, such as using a fake ID or pressuring a witness to change their story.
- J.S.A. § 2C:28-7 – This statute addresses “tampering with public records or information,” which has a broader meaning than you might initially think. For instance, one aspect of this offense is “mak[ing], present[ing]… or us[ing] any record, document or thing knowing it to be false,” which means that showing an officer a fake ID is illegal. This also means it’s illegal to use a fake ID (or someone else’s ID) to buy alcohol or get into a bar or club.
- An offense under this statute may be graded as a DP offense, a fourth degree crime, or a third degree crime, depending on the circumstances. For instance, a DP offense could rise to a third degree crime if its purpose was to injure or defraud someone.
- J.S.A. § 2C:28-5 – This statute addresses “tampering with witnesses and informants,” as well as retaliating against witnesses and informants. A person can be charged with this offense if he or she does anything which is meant to make a witness give false testimony, prevent a witness from giving testimony, or otherwise interfere with a criminal investigation. This includes giving bribes and making threats.
- This offense is always an indictable crime, never a DP offense. Depending on the circumstances, it can be graded as a third degree, second degree, or even first degree crime – the most serious type of offense there is.
New Jersey’s maximum criminal penalties are described below.
- DP Offense
- Fine – $1,000
- Sentence – 6 months
- Fourth Degree Crime
- Fine – $10,000
- Sentence – 18 months
- Third Degree Crime
- Fine – $15,000
- Sentence – 5 years
- Second Degree Crime
- Fine – $150,000
- Sentence – 10 years
- First Degree Crime
- Fine – $200,000
- Sentence – 20 years
If the New Jersey State Police ever stop you for questioning, you should be courteous, but avoid volunteering any information. The officer may pat you down if he or she has reasonable belief that you are armed with a dangerous weapon, but you do not have to consent to any additional searches. If you have not been placed under arrest, you are free to leave. If you are placed under arrest, try not to panic: tell the officer, calmly and politely, that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent. This will allow you to avoid accidentally making a self-incriminating statement.
It is extremely important to contact a defense attorney immediately if you or one of your loved ones is ever arrested. Your lawyer will protect your Constitutional rights during police interrogation, and will fight on your behalf if you are illegally detained or are the victim of a wrongful arrest.
The criminal attorneys of the Law Offices of John J. Zarych have over 45 years of experience handling a wide variety of misdemeanor and felony charges on behalf of adults and juveniles in Atlantic County, Cape May County, and beyond. We represent clients charged with sex crimes, weapons crimes, drug possession, and other serious offenses. To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call our law offices at (609) 616-4956 today. Se habla español.