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Court of Appeals: Fake ID not obstruction

Maryland’s top court has reversed a lower court’s finding that a man obstructed or hindered the performance of a police officer when he gave the officer a fake license.

The Court of Appeals said in an opinion Tuesday that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gerald Thomas Titus Jr. had impeded the investigative process used by Cpl. Mario Devivio of the Carroll County Sherriff’s Department.

During a traffic stop in which Titus was found to be intoxicated beyond the legal limit, Titus provided a Florida license with his picture and the name Frederick John Karr Jr. He told the officer that the motorcycle he was riding belonged to his roommate, Gerald Titus Jr.

The state argued that if Devivio had known Titus’ true identity at the time of the stop, he would have proceeded differently during the investigative process.

But the court said there was no evidence of that in the record. Devivio found out during his investigation Titus had given an alias and had a suspended license, but he failed to re-charge Titus under the correct name.

“We argued that in the case of giving a fake name to a police officer, that in itself should be enough to demonstrate the hindering. You have the act and the intent being pretty clear,” said Brian Kleinbord, chief of the Criminal Appeals Division within the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

“The court has said there has to be evidence of the actual impact on the police officer of the suspect giving a fake name,” he said.

Ben Miller, an assistant public defender with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the opinion, written by Judge Clayton Greene Jr., the court said the state’s case was too thin. The court found that the state should have introduced evidence at trial that showed how Titus’ conduct obstructed or hindered the investigation.

The court said that by failing to question Devivio about how his work was impeded, there wasn’t enough evidence presented to conclude that Titus hindered or obstructed the officer’s completion of his duties.

Titus was pulled over on July 9, 2008, after Devivio noticed his motorcycle veering over the double yellow line in the road several times. Titus gave the officer the fake license. At some point during the stop the officer smelled alcohol on Titus’ breath and saw that he had “bloodshot, glassy eyes.”

Titus, who the officer believed was Karr, failed a field sobriety test, taking too many steps in the walk and turn test and putting his foot down during the one-leg test. He also failed a breath test.

More than a month later, an unrelated search warrant was executed at Titus’ home, and Devivio was the assisting officer. He said in court that another officer had told him that Titus was using an alias, but Devivio failed to re-charge him with the driving under the influence charges.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Gerald Thomas Titus Jr. v. State of Maryland, No. 6, Sept. Term 2011. Reported. Opinion by Greene, J. Filed Nov. 29, 2011. Heard Sept. 7, 2011.

Issue:

Was the evidence that the petitioner gave a false name to a police officer during a traffic stop sufficient to convict him of obstructing or hindering a police officer in the performance of his duty?

Holding:

No; the state had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer was hindered or obstructed in his work.

Counsel:

Ben Miller for petitioner; Jeremy M. McCoy for respondent.

RecordFax#11-1129-22