False Information to Police Charges in SC

Senator Paul Campbell, Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, was charged with DUI and lying to police last weekend. His wife was also charged with giving false information to police.

The allegations are that the senator was driving drunk, rear-ended another car, switched seats with his wife in full view of the driver of the other car, lied to police about who was driving, and had his wife lie to the police about who was driving.

I suppose we’ll let the Senate worry about why the chairman of the ethics committee is apparently lying to the police and possibly the court to try to get himself out of trouble for driving drunk… or not worry about it, as the case may be. At the moment, I’m interested in the statute that I think the senator was charged under.

SC’s Giving False Information to Police Statute Changed in 2008

I’m pretty sure that SC’s statute for giving false information to police doesn’t actually criminalize giving false information to the police. It’s not even called “giving false information to police” anymore. I have not had the opportunity to argue this yet, and it is possible that the senator is being charged under a different code section. But….

Pre-2008: Giving False Information to Law Enforcement Officer in SC

Prior to South Carolina’s overhaul of the criminal code in 2008, S.C. Code § 16-17-725 was titled “Giving false information to law enforcement officer or member of fire department or rescue squad:”

16-17-725. Giving false information to law enforcement officer or member of fire department or rescue squad.

ARTICLE 7. MISCELLANEOUS OFFENSES

(A) It is unlawful for any person to knowingly make a false complaint, or after notice of a criminal investigation to give false information to any law enforcement officer concerning the alleged commission of any crime by another, or for any person to knowingly give false information to any rescue squad or fire department concerning the alleged occurrence of a health emergency or fire.

(B) Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed two hundred dollars or by a term of imprisonment not to exceed thirty days.

This code section made it unlawful to:

  1. Make a false complaint;
  2. After notice of a criminal investigation, to give false information to any law enforcement officer concerning the alleged commission of any crime by another; or
  3. To knowingly give false information to any rescue squad or fire department concerning the alleged occurrence of a health emergency or fire.

If Senator Campbell had been charged under this statute prior to the law’s change in 2008, there is nothing in the statute that would prohibit him from lying to the police about whether he was driving.

He did not 1) make a false complaint. He did not 2) lie about the alleged commission of any crime by another; and, as far as we know based on the media reports, he did not 3) lie to the rescue squad or fire department about a health emergency or fire.

On the other hand, if the senator’s wife lied about the alleged commission of a crime by her husband, that would fall under this code section and she could be charged with giving false information.

Surely they fixed this “loophole” with the 2008 amendments, right?

Post-2008: Making False Complaint to Law Enforcement Officer

The new S.C. Code § 16-17-725 still does not make it a crime to lie to a police officer about whether you committed a crime. and it removed the section that made it a crime to lie about a crime someone else committed. The new code section is titled “Making false complaint to law enforcement officer; giving false information to rescue squad or fire department; misrepresenting identity to law enforcement officer during traffic stop or to avoid arrest or criminal charge.”

SECTION 16-17-725. Making false complaint to law enforcement officer; giving false information to rescue squad or fire department; misrepresenting identity to law enforcement officer during traffic stop or to avoid arrest or criminal charge.

(A) It is unlawful for a person to knowingly make a false complaint to a law enforcement officer concerning the alleged commission of a crime by another, or for a person to knowingly give false information to a rescue squad or fire department concerning the alleged occurrence of a health emergency or fire.

(B) It is unlawful for a person to misrepresent his identification to a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop or for the purpose of avoiding arrest or criminal charges.

(C) A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than thirty days.

HISTORY: 1985 Act No. 87; 2008 Act No. 191, Section 1, eff April 2, 2008.

§16-17-725 now makes it unlawful to:

  1. Knowingly make a false complaint to a law enforcement officer concerning the alleged commission of a crime by another;
  2. Knowingly give false information to a rescue squad or fire department concerning the alleged occurrence of a health emergency or fire; or
  3. Misrepresent your identification to a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop or for the purpose of avoiding arrest or criminal charges.

That’s it. Done. The amendments specified the state of mind required for conviction for making a false complaint to law enforcement or giving false information to the rescue squad or fire department, and it added the new crime of misrepresenting your identification either during a traffic stop or to avoid arrest.

Again, as far as we know from media reports, the senator did not 1) make a false complaint to law enforcement, 2) lie to the rescue squad or fire department about a health emergency or fire, or 3) misrepresent his identification to law enforcement. Misrepresenting your seating location in the car is not the same as misrepresenting your identification.

Not only that, but there is nothing in the post-2008 statute that makes it a crime to lie to police about a crime that someone else committed. Although the senator’s wife could have been charged under the pre-2008 statute, there is nothing in the current code section that makes it unlawful to give false information about a crime committed by another person. The current code section only criminalizes making a false complaint to law enforcement about a crime committed by another person.

Does SC’s Perjury Statute Cover Giving False Information to Police?

SC’s perjury statute could be twisted to arguably cover false information to a police officer.

S.C. Code § 16-9-10(A)(2) says: “It is unlawful for a person to wilfully give false, misleading, or incomplete information on a document, record, report, or form required by the laws of this State.”

If you give false information to a police officer and they write it in their report, does that constitute a crime in SC? We have seen this code section used for false information at least once, but that case was dismissed before trial. I’m not aware of any appellate opinions interpreting 16-9-10(A)(2) or 16-17-725.

Charged with Giving False Information to Police in SC?

There may be other criminal charges that apply such as misprision of a felony or obstruction of justice, but SC’s code section for “giving false information” does not appear to criminalize giving false information to a police officer unless it is for purposes of making a false complaint about a crime committed by another.

Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington SC criminal defense lawyer Lacey Thompson only accepts criminal defense cases. Call at 843-444-6122 or fill out our online contact form if you have questions or to set up a free initial consultation.

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