Notary Public’s Role in the Justice System

By Joe Johnson

An office usually appoints a notary public within the state government where they reside. For example, the Governor’s Office appoints a notary public in the state of Florida. The primary duty of a notary is to witness signatures on documents of a legal or financial nature. Some documents require the notary public to administer an oath attesting to the document’s validity. The signer’s signature is also known as a “Seal.”

A notary public’s vital duty is to identify the signer of any documents or legal instruments. My experience as a former N.Y.C. Police Officer has taught me how to identify fake identity documents.

The most common fake identity document presented is a driver’s license. My knowledge of counterfeit licenses affords me the expertise to thwart frauds and con artists. Since a driver’s license is a government-issued certificate, using it illegally can constitute a felony charge. Any official government-issued document used fraudulently would constitute a felony. On more than one occasion, I was called to a location and found that the person who wanted to have a document signed differed from the person the document required to sign. I refused service because civil and criminal courts can hold me liable for an improper document.

As a Private Investigator, I accept assignments from insurance companies and law offices to investigate claims of accidents and crimes. My job is to obtain the facts of the case, but NOT to determine innocence or guilt. Every investigation involves interviewing claimants, defendants, and witnesses. Usually, at the direction of the attorney or the insurance adjuster, I am tasked to obtain a sworn, signed, notarized statement about the circumstances surrounding the claim or the crime. The attorney or insurance adjuster can use these sworn statements down the road as exhibits in a court proceeding. In the past, I have had to testify to the validity and authenticity of the statements I have taken. If the person who swore to the statement lied, the courts might hold this person civilly and criminally liable under perjury laws.

On one occasion, a man who claimed to be the son of a patient at a local hospital hired me to notarize a Power of Attorney. Upon arriving, the man claimed his father needed to sign a P.O.A. (Power of Attorney), so he could access bank accounts and other financial accounts. I explained that I would need to interview and question the father to determine his frame of mind and judge if he was competent enough to understand the document he was signing. I also explained that I would need to do this alone. His response to me over that requirement started the hair to stand up on my neck. When I questioned his father, he insisted that he be present in the hospital room. I reiterated that was not going to happen. At this point, I decided to find out what the hospital social worker knew about this patient and family situation without violating HIPPA Laws.

I spoke to the social worker, who told me the patient had been in the hospital for six months and never once did anyone come to see him. In the last few days, the man claiming to be his son showed up with legal papers. The social worker told me to talk to the father, and I will learn everything I needed to know. I entered the room alone and found a man who looked disheveled and somewhat delusional. After a brief conversation, the man told me the President of The United States was Abraham Lincoln, and the date was July 4th, 1965. He also stated that I was his son. I concluded this man was NOT Compos Mentis.

I met with the son outside the room in the hallway and informed him I would not notarize the documents because his father was not, in my opinion, able to understand what he was doing. My statement did not sit well with the son. He stated the family attorney drew up the papers, and he wanted them signed by his father. I informed him to have the attorney come to the hospital, notarize the documents, or contact the State of Florida Elder Affairs and have a guardian assigned to see to his affairs. The son did not hear what he wanted and stormed off.

I went back to the hospital social worker and updated her. I suggested she call the hospital administrator to notify the appropriate authority of what had transpired. Some weeks later, the social worker contacted me and informed me that the man was not his son but a distant relative looking to gain control over the man’s bank accounts. Following the ordeal, the client did not compensate me for my time. L.O.L.

About the Author:

Joseph P. Johnson is currently the Director of Special Operations at CHARLES B. READ INVESTIGATIONS. He is also a licensed private investigator in Florida, an armed security officer, and commissioned as a notary public in Florida.

Joe is a Retired New York City South Bronx Police Officer (NYPD), former N.Y.S. Supreme Court Investigator, and former N.Y.S. Private Investigator. Joe worked as a security and compliance agent for Broward County Aviation at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Joe is also a Technical Consultant for the entertainment business and news media outlets on police and court procedures. Joe was the creator and Executive Producer of “Speeders Fight Back,” a T.V. show for TruTv Cable Network. Joe has created, directed, and produced a documentary titled Every 58 Hours. It’s based on the alarming fact that a law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty every 58 hours in the United States. The trailer is available on YouTube at these links.

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