The House Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report Wednesday to a bill that would make it a crime to tell a lie to law enforcement officers who are investigating a major crime. House Bill 355 is sponsored by state Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope, and is co-sponsored by state Rep. Tracey Estes, R-Winfield.
Robertson said that this bill passed in the House last year, but COVID-19 interrupted the session before it could get out of the Senate.
Under existing law, to knowingly provide a false statement to a prosecutor or a member of the attorney general’s office is a class C felony, Robertson said, and this bill would expand that to law enforcement officers investigating a Class A or Class B felony. Robertson said that the officer would have to read a Miranda-type statement in which the officer tells the potential witness that a criminal investigation is being conducted and anything said that is false may be committing a felony and be prosecuted under the law.
State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said: “There are certain communities in Alabama that have distrust of law enforcement. Certain communities feel that law enforcement uses tools like that against them.”
Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, added that law enforcement already has the charge of hindering prosecution that does something similar.
Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, said:
“We need to take a look at the existing statute. There was a circumstance where a prosecutor with the attorney general’s office was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. Something that was probably illegal and the person who was working with him on that turned on him and recorded everything that was said, but was fearful that the law (against making false statements to a prosecutor) could be used against him.”
Wadsworth then asked if the law would apply to family members. Robertson answered that family members can be witnesses.
Wadsworth shared an experience he had with a former client who was entrapped by local law enforcement.
Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, interrupted Wadsworth saying: “We don’t need to turn this into a bashing law enforcement session.”
“I was just saying what has and can happen,” Wadsworth replied.
England said this is a better bill than the one Robertson brought last year or the year before. In that version, the penalty could have been greater than the crime for which the officer was investigating. England made a motion to give HB355 a favorable report. The committee voted in favor.
HB355 can now be considered by the full House of Representatives.