HONOLULU - Lying to police who are investigating a crime would become at least a misdemeanor under a bill Hawaii lawmakers are advancing.
Honolulu police officers told members of the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday that they support the measure because witnesses who mislead police can hamper investigations and can get innocent people thrown in jail.
"When you take investigations in a direction based on false statements, it costs us resources," Capt. Jason Kawabata said. "It's unfair to the victims of crimes."
Filing a false police report is already a misdemeanor in Hawaii. The bill, HB1804, which advanced out of committee, would make unsworn false testimony to police the same level of offense as the crime police are investigating, a misdemeanor at minimum.
Lt. Alexander Garcia told lawmakers the bill was based on a federal law. He said he was unaware of similar measures in other states.
The bill does not require police to tell witnesses about penalties or legal options when they talk to police.
"A witness isn't read their rights," Garcia said in an interview. "I always tell them, when I'm running an investigation, 'Tell me the truth or don't tell me anything.'"
He said his support is motivated by cases he has worked in which accusers make up stories to get someone arrested.
"This has happened not only in domestic cases but other personal-type vendettas," he said.
Richard Sing, president of the Hawaii Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he's concerned the bill is too broad and the penalty part of it is unfair and probably unworkable.
For example, he said if your brother is being investigated for murder and you tell the police you don't know where your brother is when you really do, you would have committed an offense that would be treated as seriously as murder.
Or in a scenario where you're pulled over for speeding and an officer asks whether you know how fast you were going. If you say you don't when you actually do, then you've committed a misdemeanor and you could go to jail for a year, Sing said.
"You want to encourage people to be honest to the police, but I think the bill is overbroad as written and the penalty provision is very problematic," Sing said.