ANALYSIS OF DECEMBER 4, 2007 CAV OPINION

[Posted December 4, 2007] The Court of Appeals hands down one short published opinion today. The case is Rodriquez v. Commonwealth . Upon being stopped for a minor traffic infraction, Rodriquez evidently vacillated over just how law-abiding he wanted to be. Having no operator’s license in his possession, he gave the police officer his brother’s name and license information.  The officer thereupon prepared summonses using that fake identifying information. But when he gave the summonses to Rodriquez to sign, the suspect inexplicably signed his own name (albeit illegibly) instead of the brother’s.

Okay; this wouldn’t be the first time that a crook concocted a clever plot to evade the law, only to screw it up in the execution. But in the ensuing prosecutions for forging a public document and uttering a forged document, he argued that since he signed his real name, he couldn’t be convicted of those two offenses.

It’s an interesting twist on the concept of forgery; the defendant didn’t actually write any of the false information (the officer took care of that for him), and the signature was quite genuine. But since forgery requires proof of “a false making with the intent to defraud,” the defendant’s actions in furnishing the officer with the false information are enough to get him convicted, and to get that conviction affirmed today. That’s because he gave the officer the fake ID knowing that it would be used to prepare the summonses, and then once they were thus prepared, he signed them knowing them to be false.

Today’s opinion gives very little treatment to one issue that didn’t seem quite so clear-cut to me (but perhaps Rodriquez didn’t raise it as a question presented). In a single sentence, and with only an analogous case citation, the court concludes that the summonses were “public records.” I recognize that they aren’t private records in the classic sense, but perhaps more of a discussion of this issue might have differentiated these documents (which mattered only to the prosecution, Rodriquez, and the court) from what we ordinarily think of as public. The court does cite the celebrated 1993 case of Campbell v. Commonwealth, involving the prosecution of a Norfolk judge who intentionally doctored docket information in order to deflect unwelcome publicity from a political ally. There is enough of a connection between the summonses themselves in this case, and the docket entries in Campbell, that Rodriquez may have decided not to fight this battle.