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Evans v. State

Superior Court of Delaware

April 30, 2019

Hakeem M. EVANS, Defendant-Below, Appellant
v.
STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

         Submitted: January 17, 2019

          Corrected: June 5, 2019

Page 309

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 310

          Upon Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County, REVERSED.

         Benjamin S. Gifford, IV, Esquire, The Law Office of Benjamin S. Gifford, IV, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellant, Hakeem M. Evans.

          Julia C. Mayer, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee, the State of Delaware.

          OPINION

         WALLACE, J.

          I. INTRODUCTION

          "The more you look at ‘common knowledge’, the more you realise that it is more likely to be common than it is to be knowledge."[1] Since the adoption of our criminal impersonation statute, Delaware practitioners and jurists assumed that the State need only prove that one gave a false name to be convicted. The Court here must, for the first time, confront that precise assumption. That examination reveals that no matter what was once believed to be in the font of common Delaware criminal law knowledge, one cannot criminally impersonate a wholly fictitious person; the State must prove as an element of that statutory offense that a false name given is

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one belonging to "a human being who has been born and is alive."[2]

          Hakeem M. Evans appeals his conviction for misdemeanor criminal impersonation. Evans’ only contention on appeal is that, at his Court of Common Pleas trial, the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he "impersonate[d] another person" when he verbally gave the police a name that was not his own. The Court must conclude here that he is right. And because there was insufficient evidence to support Evans’ conviction of misdemeanor criminal impersonation, it must be REVERSED.

          II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

          Just before midnight on April 30, 2017, New Castle County Police Officer Christopher Nikituk was dispatched to Stonebridge Boulevard in New Castle, Delaware, for a loud music complaint. Officer Nikituk found the reported vehicle and spoke to its two male occupants. One of the two was the Appellant Hakeem M. Evans. Officer Nikituk asked each man for his name, date of birth, phone number, and address. After some back-and-forth, Evans told the officer that his name was "Nasir Evans." Evans also provided a date of birth and phone number. Officer Nikituk searched the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System ("DELJIS"), but found no records for that name and date of birth.

          Officer Nikituk asked Evans to identify himself once more. This time Evans told the officer that his name was "Johnny Roberts" and gave a different birthdate. Again Officer Nikituk searched DELJIS. Again he could find no records matching the information given. A second officer on-scene then ran the phone number Evans had first provided. That DELJIS search revealed Evans’ true identity: Hakeem Evans, born August 23, 1994. That search also revealed that Evans had an open arrest warrant.

         Evans was arrested and eventually charged by Criminal Information with one count of criminal impersonation.[3] He was tried before the Court of Common Pleas without a jury. The only trial evidence presented was Officer Nikituk’s testimony. When he was asked to describe his attempt to identify Evans with the two false names provided, Officer Nikituk explained: "With both of those names specifically I don’t know if the name actually populated or not. I know the pictures didn’t match. Either the name didn’t populate or the pictures did not match. It was one or the other."[4]

         During closing argument, Evans’ counsel posited that the State failed to meet its burden because it did not prove that the name Nasir Evans belonged to a real person which, he argued, is an element of criminal impersonation.[5] But, the trial court found Evans guilty of criminal impersonation, holding:

[C]onsidering the totality of the circumstances I understand, but don’t agree with, but understand [the] defense argument as to the ...

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