The crime of providing false information to the police occurs when an individual gives information to a law enforcement officer that they know is incorrect or misleading. In California, providing false information to law enforcement can also be considered obstruction of justice.

What is Obstruction of Justice?

Obstruction of justice is a legal term that refers to an act meant to obstruct or impede the “due administration of justice,” also known as due process of law. This may include threatening to obstruct, attempting to obstruct, and/or taking action to obstruct.

The crime of obstruction of justice can be a federal or a state crime, depending on the proceeding that is interfered with. In some cases, it can be considered a white collar crime.

In order for an individual to be charged and/or convicted with obstruction of justice, they must have knowledge of an investigation and/or criminal proceeding and attempt to influence it. They must have specific intent to obstruct that proceeding. There must also be a connection between the obstruction attempt and the proceeding of which the individual had knowledge. In other words, simply failing to assist law enforcement does not automatically constitute obstruction of justice.

There are many offenses that may be considered obstruction of justice. These include if an individual:

  • Intentionally and knowingly lies to police during questioning;
  • Knowingly destroys or falsifies potentially incriminating documents sought by law enforcement during an investigation;
  • Attempts to influence a jury or witness;
  • Knowingly tampers with evidence;
  • Retaliates against an individual involved in the case, including witnesses, victims, and/or informants; and/or
  • Resists arrest.

It is important to remember every individual has the right to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement. However, this right does not protect an individual if they provide false information. Obstruction of justice does not occur when an individual exercises their right to remain silent, it occurs when they intentionally mislead law enforcement.

Obstruction of justice may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the jurisdiction, court and specific offense committed. For example, providing a false name to a police officer during a traffic stop is typically considered a misdemeanor. However, stealing a document involved in a federal court case may be considered a felony.

How Does California Define Law Enforcement?

Members of law enforcement can be known by several terms including police, deputies, troopers, law enforcement officers, cops, and/or peace officers. A peace officer is defined in California as any individual who engages in law enforcement, including:

  • Police officers;
  • Marshalls;
  • Sheriffs;
  • Deputy marshalls;
  • California Highway Patrol;
  • Inspectors with the District Attorney’s office; and/or
  • Investigators with the District Attorney’s office.

How Does California Define Providing False Information to Police?

In California, the criminal act of providing false information to police can be done when an individual:

  • Files a false police report;
  • Provides false information to police;
  • Provides false identification information to police;
  • Uses and fake or forged driver’s license or other identification; and/or
  • Provides fake, forged and/or false vehicle registration information.

Filing a false police report occurs when an individual knowingly makes false allegations to a law enforcement officer with the intent to start or disrupt a criminal investigation. This can be done by filing an actual report or simply telling an on-duty law enforcement officer a lie.

The definition of filing a false police report in California includes reporting the occurrence of a felony or misdemeanor to a deputy district attorney, peace officer, or district attorney when that crime did not, in fact, occur. The individual reporting the information must know the information is false in order for it to be a crime.

What Does The Prosecutor Have to Prove to Convict Me of Providing False Information?

In order to convict an individual of providing false information to law enforcement, the prosecution must prove that the defendant:

  • Provided false information orally or in writing to a law enforcement officer who was in performance of their duties;
  • Knew the information provided was false; and
  • Knew or should have known the individual they provided the information to was a law enforcement officer.

Is Providing False Information a Misdemeanor Offense in California?

In California, the crime of providing false information to law enforcement is a misdemeanor. If convicted, an individual can receive up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. The exact consequences can vary from case to case, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the crime. 

When Does Providing False Information to a Police Officer Become a Felony Charge?

There are instances where providing false information to a police officer can become a felony charge. Falsifying information to a police officer can be charged as a felony if the offense included perjury or fraud.

Perjury, also known as lying under oath, is a crime that occurs when an individual tells a lie after giving an oath or affirmation to a public official promising to be truthful. Perjury is often associated with lying on a witness stand in court but it can also occur if an individual lies to a notary public, clerk of court, and/or any other public official where they have promised to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

In most cases, perjury must be intentional in order to be a crime. In other words, the individual must know they are providing false information and intend to do so. Some states require that the perjury be material to the case.

Perjury can occur in different forms, including:

  • Oral testimony, including during a court proceeding or deposition;
  • A written statement; and/or
  • A written, sworn legal document that contains false information, such as an affidavit.

Criminal fraud is a type of white collar crime committed to cheat or deceive another for a financial or similar gain. Criminal fraud can include any act intended to deceive another through false representation of a fact that results in legal detriment to the individual who relied on that information.

In order to obtain a fraud conviction, the prosecution must prove:

  • There was a misrepresentation of material fact;
  • By an individual who knew that fact was false;
  • With an intent to defraud;
  • To an individual or entity who justifiably relied on the misrepresentation; and
  • Actual injury or damages resulted from that reliance.

Are There Any Defenses to This Criminal Charge?

Yes, there are defenses available to the charge of providing false information to police. These may include:

  • The individual told the truth;
  • The individual did not know they were providing false information;
  • The individual believed in good faith they were telling the truth; and/or
  • The individual did not know they were giving information to a peace officer.

Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding the Giving of False Information Charge?

Yes, it is important to contact an experienced California criminal lawyer if you are facing charges of giving false information to a peace officer. As noted above, it is usually a misdemeanor but can be charged as a felony. A felony conviction can carry serious and life-long consequences.

An attorney can review your case and determine if any defenses are available to you. They can also represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. It is always important to have an attorney assisting you in criminal matters, even if you feel you are experienced in the justice system.