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Top court reverses conviction for giving false information to police officers

A Salisbury man who deliberately gave police incorrect details about a shooting is not guilty of a misleading the officers into launching an investigation because they already were investigating the incident, the Court of Appeals held yesterday in vacating the misdemeanor conviction.

This interpretation of the law — Art. 27, §150 — is consistent with the court’s own interpretation of more than a decade ago in Choi v. State (1989), according to the reported opinion written by Judge John C. Eldridge.

Art. 27, §150 states in relevant part: “A person may not make a false statement, report or complaint, or cause a false statement, report or complaint to be made, to any police officer … with intent to deceive and with intent to cause an investigation or other action to be taken as a result thereof.”

“Clearly, in enacting this statute, the General Assembly intended to proscribe false reports of crimes and other statements which instigate totally unnecessary police investigations,” Eldridge wrote quoting from Choi. “The statute, however, does not expressly proscribe a false response to police questioning after an investigation has already begun.”

Salisbury police and Emergency Medical System units responded to a report of gunshots in December 1997. They learned that the defendant, Lanol Williams Jones, and his niece were at the emergency room at Peninsula Regional Medical Center.

Jones told Officer Mark White that his niece was shot while walking in a wooded area in the city park, according to the opinion.

After Jones made the statement, police went to the park to search the area.

Jones later changed his story and told White that he opened his front door and saw a man standing on the porch. Fearing that police would think that drugs were being sold from the house, Jones said, he ordered the man to leave; but a second man approached the house and fired the shot that hit Jones’s niece while she stood inside the house.

Jones was convicted of misleading the police, and the Wicomico County Circuit Court imposed a six-month sentence.

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed in an unreported opinion and the Court of Appeals granted Jones’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Prosecutors argued that Jones’ misleading statements caused police to embark on a “false lead” during the investigation, but the court yesterday concluded that this interpretation is not consistent with the law in Choi.

Eldridge noted that the General Assembly has revised the statute more than once since that opinion was issued, but not in a way that would change the holding in Choi.

“If there is any enlargement of the statute’s scope, it must be done by the General Assembly,” Eldridge wrote in remanding the case with instructions to reverse the conviction.<table width=”100%” border=”0″ cellspacing=”0″ cellpadding=”0″

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case: Lanol Williams Jones v. State of Maryland, CA No. 93, Sept. Term 1999. Reported. Opinion by Eldridge, J. Filed Jan. 9, 2001.Issue: Does lying to a police officer who is investigating a crime violate Art. 27, §150.Holding: No. The statute states in relevant part: “A person may not make a false statement, report or complaint … with intent to cause an investigation or other action to be taken as a result thereof,” and it is for the General Assembly, and not the courts, to expand the meaning of the law.Counsel: Asst. Public Defender Daniel H. Weis for petitioner; Asst. Attorney General Rachel M. Kamins for respondent.RecordFax: #1-0109-20 (9 pages)