Filing a False Police Report

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What is a False Police Report?

Filing a false police report is a crime according to both federal and state laws. The crime involves a person who knowingly makes a false report to a police officer with the intent to disrupt a criminal investigation. The person must make the statement to a law enforcement officer or a peace officer in order to be found guilty, and the statement must be material to a criminal investigation. 

Any person can file a police report, either at the police station or with an on-duty police officer. An officer will contact the person who filed the report in order to obtain further details. False police reports can be damaging both for police efforts as well as any person who might be the victim of the false report.

Being charged with filing a false police report is a very serious crime and could lead to other charges such as obstruction of justice. However, this crime is a different crime from perjury or making a false confession, as these two usually occur only in formal court proceedings or when under investigation for a suspected crime.   

What are the Criminal Elements?

In order to be found guilty of the crime of filing a false police report, a state prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

Of these elements, the most important ones involve the terms “intent” and “knowing.” That is, the defendant must have knowledge that the report or statements are false. Also, they must have made the false report with the intention that it lead to an obstruction of police activity. Thus, a person will not be found guilty if they offer a false statement which they reasonably believed was true. 

What are the Consequences?

Depending on the laws of each individual state, the crime of filing a false police report can result in misdemeanor or felony charges. Misdemeanors result in jail time of less than one year and may involve some small fines. A felony charge can result in imprisonment for longer than one year, and may involve heavier monetary fines. 

In particular, the crime of filing a false report of terrorism is probably the most serious type of false report, since it deals with national security. Filing a false report of terrorism can result in a minimum prison sentence of 7 years, up to 20 years maximum even for first-time offenders. Also, a false report of terrorism may be prosecuted as a violent felony, even if the offender did not actually commit any violent acts.

In addition to criminal penalties, filing a false police report can expose the offender to additional civil lawsuits. For example, the false report may have caused damage or losses to persons who were named in the report.  In that case, they may seek damages by filing a civil complaint against the offender.

Are There Any Defenses?

Defenses against false police report charges usually involve the elements mentioned above, especially those regarding “intent” and “knowledge.” That is, it may be a defense if the defendant lacked the required intent to disrupt criminal investigations, or if they lacked knowledge that the report was false.

Also, any conditions that negate the intention requirement, such as intoxication or insanity may also serve as a defense. A criminal lawyer may also be able to investigate other possible defenses based on the facts of the case.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Charges of Filing a False Police Report?

If you are facing criminal charges for this issue, you may wish to contact a lawyer immediately. Criminal attorneys often interact regularly with police authorities and are familiar with the laws regulating police reports. Your criminal lawyer can instruct you on how to proceed with defending against such charges.

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Last Modified: 08-27-2013 12:49 PM PDT

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