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Lying about Possessing a Weapon upon Arrest Booking Violates California Law; Does Not Implicate Fifth Amendment

The California Court of Appeals held that an arrestee who lies to jail booking officers about possessing a weapon violates a law prohibiting introduction of a weapon into a jail. The court also held that requiring disclosure does not violate the Fifth Amendment.

Brenda Ross was arrested for assault with a knife. Police patted her down but did not find a weapon. Ross was transported to jail where the booking officer asked her if she possessed any weapons. Ross said "No," but a search revealed a knife in the inseam of her undergarments.

Ross was charged with violating Section 4574(a) of the California Penal Code, which makes it a felony to knowingly bring a deadly weapon into a jail. The trial court granted Ross's motion to set aside the information, finding that she did not violate the statute, because she had not voluntarily entered the jail.

The California Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Ross "knowingly took . . . a deadly weapon into the jail after denying to the booking officer that she possessed a weapon." As such, she "voluntarily chose to enter the jail with the weapon," the Court found. "The statute requires no more." The Court concluded that "an arrestee commits a sufficiently voluntary act to violate the statute if he or she knowingly brings a deadly weapon into a jail after having denied possessing such a weapon. Section 4574 does not give arrestees a license to lie to the booking officer." Accordingly, the Court found that Ross "was obligated to disclose her possession of the knife or suffer the criminal penalties imposed by the statute. She had no choice whether to go to jail, but she was afforded the choice to not violate section 4574."

The Court also rejected Ross's argument "that she had a Fifth Amendment right not to disclose her possession of the knife because disclosure would have incriminated her." Rather, the Court found that Ross's "Fifth Amendment privilege permitted her to remain silent. It did not protect her from the consequences of lying to the booking officer." In so holding, the Court quoted a Wisconsin case which declared that the Fifth Amendment provides "a shield against compelled self-incrimination, it does not provide… a sword upon which to thrust a lie." See: People v. Ross 162 Cal.App.4th 1184 (2008).

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Related legal case

People v. Ross