In California, filing a false police report is defined as knowingly reporting false information to a deputy district attorney, peace officer or district attorney regarding the occurrence of a felony or misdemeanor. A false report also occurs when a person knowingly makes false allegations to a law enforcement officer with the intent to commence or disrupt an ongoing criminal investigation.
Filing a false police report occurs in more ways than one. A false report can be made by actually completing a police report. It can be made by telling an on-duty officer false information. It can also be made by providing false information to a deputy district attorney or district attorney.
The individual making the police report can be charged with filing a false police report if they affirmatively make a false statement or if they withhold information that is material to the criminal investigation.
If an individual files a false report in order to mislead or misdirect law enforcement, they could be charged with obstruction of justice for wasting time, money and resources of law enforcement.
What is a Police Report?
A police report is a document used by law enforcement that is created when a crime is reported. It is used to document the event and serve as a reference at a later date, such as during court proceedings. Police reports include information such as:
- Victim name;
- Alleged perpetrator name;
- Nature of the offense;
- Names of witnesses; and/or
- Any other relevant information.
Is Mistakenly Providing Inaccurate Information the Same as a False Report?
No, law enforcement and district attorneys appreciate citizens providing them with information and they know that people make mistakes. A false police report only occurs when someone intentionally, or on purpose, provides law enforcement with information they know is false.
If an individual believes they have information relevant to a case, they should provide it without fear. It is absolutely okay to make a mistake, all humans do. If an individual determines they did provide inaccurate information, all they have to do to correct the mistake is alert whomever they provided the information to.
What Happens When Someone Lies on a Police Report?
As discussed above, when someone lies on a police report, they may be charged with obstruction of justice or filing a false police report. The consequences depend on the circumstances surrounding the lie and the nature of the lie. Should the lie be minor, such as a minor detail about the incident, the resulting charge will likely be a misdemeanor.
However, if the lie is material, felony charges may result. An example would be making a false report of a bomb threat resulting in the shutdown of a location. Because there will be a large use of public resources to search and secure the location, the charges are more serious.
What is the Punishment for Filing a False Police Report in California?
There are federal and state laws governing the filing of a false police report. These vary by jurisdiction, including whether the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor. The punishment often depends on the effect the false police report had on a criminal investigation or the public. Punishments can include fines, jail time and/or probation.
Under the California penal code for false police reports, filing a false police report can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If convicted, an individual may serve up to 6 months in jail and/or pay a fine of up to $1,000.00. The court may take into consideration the individual’s criminal history, motive for filing and false report and the consequences of the false report. In some cases, the court may grant probation.
If an individual is convicted of felony filing a false police report, it can have lasting consequences. The individual’s rights may be impacted, including:
- The right to operate a motor vehicle;
- The right to vote;
- The right to hold a professional license; and/or
- The right to own a firearm.
If an individual files a false police report with the intent to accuse someone else of a crime or intending to cause law enforcement to investigate an innocent party, the person falsely accused may file a civil lawsuit. In a civil lawsuit, the individual who was falsely accused would seek monetary compensation, or damages.
Civil penalties may occur when a false report was filed against an individual or corporation and caused harm. Damages in these cases may include:
- Attorney’s fees;
- Lost wages;
- Emotional distress; and/or
- Other civil damages requested.
How Does the Prosecution Prove a Police Report was False?
The burden of proof for filing a false police report rests with the prosecution. The prosecution must prove the actions of the individual accused of filing a false report meet the specific elements of the crime. These elements vary from state to state.
The most important element of the crime of filing a false police report is intent. The individual making the report must intent to knowingly mislead or omit information. An example of intent would be an individual who reports their wallet has been stolen by their neighbor when, in fact, they know their wallet is in their handbag.
In order to be convicted of filing a false police report, the prosecution must prove the individual reported information they knew was false or omitted information on purpose to mislead law enforcement. People’s memories are not perfect and individuals may report inaccurate information at times, but so long as they believe in good faith the information is accurate, the report is not false.
Is The Police Coming to Me and Asking For a Statement a Defense to Making a False Report?
No, the police requesting a statement is not a defense to filing a false report. This is because the individual giving a statement still has the ability to lie or tell the truth. Simply because information is requested from them does not give them the right to lie.
There are some defenses available to the charge of filing a false police report, including:
- The individual, in good faith, believed the false report was true; and/or
- The individual did not personally report the crime.
Should I Contact a Lawyer about Representing Me with My Criminal Case?
Yes, a California criminal lawyer can assist you with your criminal case. If you are charged with filing a false police report, a criminal lawyer can help make sure your rights are protected. The lawyer can analyze your case and determine if any defenses are available to you. They can also represent you during court proceedings.
It is possible that a civil lawsuit may be filed against you for filing a false police report. A lawyer can also represent you in other issues stemming from the false police report. A civil lawsuit can result in you being ordered to pay damages, or a sum of money, so it is important to have a lawyer.
It is possible to mistakenly provide false information to law enforcement. If you have filed a police report you believed to be true at the time but later found out was false or inaccurate, it is important to alert law enforcement as soon as possible.