Defendant’s Refusal to Comply with Officer’s Legitimate Identification Request Constituted Interference with the Officer’s Duties

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s decision to vacate a criminal defendant’s conviction for interfering with a police officer, because the State provided sufficient evidence of the essential elements.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 14, 2002. The defendant had a history of trespassing on a business’ property, and an employee discovered the defendant apparently tampering with pumping equipment. The defendant urged the employee to call police, and when they responded, an officer asked the defendant to identify himself. The defendant failed to do so immediately, claiming that “he did not need to produce identification, that he was on public property and that ‘this isn’t Russia. I’m not showing you any [identification].’”

The defendant was arrested and subsequently convicted of interfering with a police officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-167a, as well as other charges. When asked how the State provided sufficient evidence, the court responded that police were “acting within the scope of their duties in investigating the defendant’s alleged trespass,” and the defendant knew why he was being asked for identification.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he hindered the investigation by failing to promptly identify himself, and that his conduct was outside the scope of § 53a-167a. The State countered that the statute prohibits both verbal and nonverbal conduct calculated to interfere with the completion of an officer’s duties. In addition, the State contended that “a refusal to comply with a legitimate police request is equivalent to interfering with an officer,” thus there was sufficient evidence to convict. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant and overturned his conviction. The State appealed this ruling, arguing that where a police officer makes “a legitimate investigatory stop under Terry, the person subject to the Terry stop must honor the officer’s reasonable demand for identification.” It stated that in this case, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged or had engaged in criminal activity, and his refusal to promptly identify himself “provided a sufficient factual basis for the defendant’s conviction.”

Upon review of the statute, the Supreme Court noted that the words used are broad in scope, indicating that the legislature “intended to prohibit any act which would amount to meddling in or hampering the activities of police in the performance of their duties.” The Court agreed with the State that a refusal to provide identification in conjunction with a Terry stop “may hamper or impede a police investigation into apparent criminal activity,” regardless of whether the offending conduct is active, passive, aggressive, or peaceable. The Court explained that because § 53a-167a was drafted in such a way as “to encompass a wide range of conduct,” it is unreasonable to determine that because the legislature did not explicitly include refusals to identification requests, such conduct is exempt.

In order to effectuate an investigation, it is only natural that officers ask questions, and “questions concerning a suspect’s identity are a routine and accepted part of many Terry stops.” The government has several legitimate interests in ascertaining a suspect’s identity, and “[t]he request for identity has an immediate relation to the purpose, rationale, and practical demands of a Terry stop.” The Supreme Court agreed with the State that the defendant’s conduct fell within the purview of § 53a-167a, and was left to determine whether the elements of the offense were satisfied: namely, whether the defendant intentionally hindered the investigation. The Court agreed that there was sufficient evidence to convict: the defendant’s refusal delayed the police investigation “to [an] appreciable degree.” The delay need not be substantial. In addition, the defendant knew why the police were present, and his refusal “reflected an intent by the defendant to hinder, delay or impede the police.” Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment with respect to this charge and remanded the case to affirm the judgment of conviction.

When faced with a charge of interfering with a police officer, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.