Don’t sign your traffic ticket with an obscene word or remark

Decatur (TN) Daily, Jan 9, 2013:

Officers arrested NFL player Rolando McClain on a charge of giving a false name to law enforcement Tuesday after he signed a citation for overly dark window tint as “(Expletive) y’all,” Decatur police said.

When a patrol supervisor asked McClain to put his real name on the ticket, McClain told the sergeant, “That is my name,” said police spokesman Lt. John Crouch.

Under Maryland law and, one suspects, under Tennessee law, the signature on a ticket is an acknowledgement of receipt of the ticket, not an agreement with the charge or the validity of the process underlying its issuance.  “[Expletive] y’all” is not a valid entry in Maryland or, apparently, in Tennessee.

The only possible defense that comes to my mind – please note, I am not a Tennessee lawyer and this is not legal advice or a formal opinion, just a few thoughts – turns on intent. The alleged expletive was arguably not used with the intent to deceive. Indeed, the report (if true) suggests not a desire to conceal an identity but to revel arrogantly in the supposedly universal recognition of the motorist as a public figure. Whether giving a false name has a requirement of deceptive intent is a matter of Tennessee law, on which a Maryland attorney should not professionally opine, but this motorist was (if reports are accurate) foolishly trying to increase his profile to the government, it seems, not to conceal his identity or otherwise to deceive an officer.

In Maryland, knowingly giving false information to an executive branch officer is sometimes no crime, sometimes it’s a crime regardless of specific intent and sometimes it’s a crime only depending on the specifics of the information and the deceptive intent.  It depends on the specific statute and the facts.  For example, lying about your weight by 5 pounds out of vanity on a driver’s license application is probably less culpable than lying by 40 pounds with intent to deceive law enforcement or the MVA, to remain in the USA illegally, etc. This is not to endorse any false statement to any government official, but to note the different applications of “false statement/false identification” laws.

I will give this advice, however: unless the law mandates that you use an obscene word, such as when giving testimony under oath or filling out an incident report about a conversation or the contents of a message, etc., avoid using obscenities in dealings with government personnel. It almost never helps, especially with law enforcement officers in uniform and especially in writing on government forms. Definitely avoid doing so in Maryland.

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