Fake Movie Ticket Offer To Find Fake Pizza Order

Richard Crawford was convicted of placing a fake pizza order to a woman's house, but the New Zealand High Court overturned it because of the hoax movie ticket text a police officer used to track him down and get Crawford's address.

Crawford placed a fake $30 Domino's order last year to the house of a woman who was an unwitting and unwilling recipient. The woman was upset after she got several other anonymous orders made to her house including one occasion where a taxi was ordered to take her to the hospital. There isn't any proof that Crawford is responsible for the other incidents. When the order arrived at the woman's house, she got the phone number of the person who made the order and complained to the police. 

The police sergeant tried to call the number several times with no response, so he ran the number through police systems to no avail. Then he sent the following text: "Thanks for your continued support. You are the winner of two Movie Max 5 session passes to be used by 12/6/17. Text your name and address for the passes to be posted to you.'" Crawford immediately replied with his name and address.

A few days later, a police officer drove past the address, saw the lights on, knocked on the door, and spoke to Crawford and his father. The officer said he was enquiring about a fictitious pizza order, where Crawford denied any knowledge. The officer went on to say that he was the Movie Max guy, then Crawford accompanied the sergeant to the station and made a full confession.

Crawford was convicted in November 2017, but the High Court ruled that his confession is inadmissible after the police officer turned up to his house because the movie ticket text was unlawful. The judge who convicted Crawford in the District Court found that the confession was improperly obtained, but allowed it by a narrow margin.

Justice Davidson said that there was a direct link between the movie ticket text that fooled Crawford and his subsequent confession. Davidson wrote that there was a sinister element to Crawford's actions and that it was more than a prank to anonymously target a woman for unknown reasons.

Comments from Allen:
Sounds like Richard Crawford was inspired by Larry Vincent, aka "Seymour, Master of the Macabre, the Epitome of Evil," a late night TV host on KHJ-TV between 1969 and 1974.  I used to watch him every week, and one of his evil schemes was to call "Pizza Fella," order a pizza, and then deny having made the call in order to get it for free.

Like Seymour, Mr. Crawford was able to get away with his evil scheme, because a New Zealand court found that the arresting officer obtained his confession illegally.

Fortunately for Mr. Crawford, he did not try his scheme in the United States.  In the U.S., it is not illegal to use a ruse to locate a defendant.  Federal officers in the U.S. have famously offered Super Bowl tickets to locate criminals.  There are limits to the falsehoods officers may employ to capture criminals, but offering free movie tickets is not out of bounds.

As to obtaining a confession, the officer in the United States would, of course, be required to inform the defendant of his Miranda rights prior to asking him questions about the alleged crime.  That applies any time the officer has a defendant in a position in which he has identified the person as being the target of an investigation and he desires to question that person in an environment in which the defendant is not free to walk away.

The Kentucky Supreme Court threw out a conviction based on a confession obtained by a ruse, under different circumstances. I quote the case of Gray v. Commonwealth here because that case provides a good discussion of American law concerning the use of a ruse to obtain a conviction. Sometimes it is okay, but there is a line that the police may not cross:

"A confession obtained by police through trickery is not a new issue for us. In Springer v. Commonwealth, we refused to suppress a confession because "the mere employment of a ruse, or 'strategic deception,' does not render a confession involuntary so long as the ploy does not rise to the level of compulsion or coercion." In essence, we have refused to hold that intentional police misinformation by itself makes a confession involuntary. But both parties rightly remind us that the particular issue presented today—falsified documents purporting to represent the official results of a state-police lab's DNA examination—is one we have yet to confront. To understand this issue under the totality of the circumstances, it is important to frame precisely what activities law enforcement used in Gray's interrogation.

"Gray was summoned to the sheriffs office ostensibly to address a matter related to his parents' will. After a break, he returned to the interview room and signed a Miranda waiver. Upon his return, the room was arrayed with photos of the crime scene and murder victims. A piece of pecan pie and a Pepsi were placed on the table to recreate the crime-scene environment. The police turned off the camera and five-and-a-half hours of unrecorded interrogation proceeded from that point. Gray alleges he was coerced into confessing to the crimes within this period.

"According to Gray, interrogators showed him pictures of his parents' corpses, told him that their blood was found on his clothes and in his vehicle, told him that gunshot residue was found on his clothing, and told him that an eyewitness and a videotape recording placed him at the scene of the crime. Law enforcement admitted that they made these representations to Gray and that all of them were false. Interrogators presented Gray a fake document purporting to originate from the Kentucky State Police linking his parents' DNA to his vehicle. Finally, Gray alleges that while he was being interrogated, an officer claimed to have received a phone call from the judge, who threatened use of the death penalty against Gray if he did not confess. Gray confessed but the text of his admission is filled with statements that suggest he did not truly believe he committed the crime."Gray v. Commonwealth, 480 S.W.3d 253, 260-261 (Kentucky 2016).
So there you have it.  Sometimes it is ok for the cops to lie.  Sometimes it is not.  There is a lot of Gray area here.


Allen Browning is an attorney in Idaho Falls, Idaho who handles personal injury and criminal defense. He has over 30 years of experience and handled thousands of cases. Allen handles cases from all over Idaho. Call (208) 542-2700 to set up a free consultation if you are facing legal trouble or you have been involved in an accident.

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