A police report is a document that is created when a crime has been reported to the police. Police reports generally contain the names of the victim and the perpetrator, the nature of the offense, the names of any potential witnesses, and other relevant information. The purpose of a police report is to have a record of each specific event to refer to when referencing the incident, such as during a legal case.
The public regularly file police reports of crimes committed, as they provide information relevant to ongoing police investigations. However, if a person knowingly provides misinformation to the police when filing a report, then they could be found guilty of filing a false police report and other related offenses.
The individual that files a false report could be charged whether they affirmatively make a false statement, or if they deliberately withhold information that is material to a criminal investigation.
Filing a false report to mislead the police could be considered to be obstruction of justice, as they waste police time, money, and resources. The law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who made the false police report satisfies the elements of the crime with which they are being charged.
This is further discussed in the following section. The intent to provide false information is what will separate a false police report from a report that was filed due to a mistake of fact. Simply making a mistake when providing information does not result in a false police report.
How Do You Prove that the Police Report was False?
The prosecution will need to prove that the person who filed the false police report meets the specific elements of the crime of filing a false police report. These specific elements of the crime can vary from state to state and are subject to the laws of each jurisdiction.
In general, a person can assume that they will be convicted if the prosecution is successful in proving that they knowingly or deliberately made a false police report in response to a legitimate criminal inquiry. Additionally, the prosecution will seek to prove that in making a false police report, those actions deceived the police and/or hindered a criminal investigation.
It is important to note that the most important element of this crime is the intent when making the statement to the law enforcement officer. An example of this would be if the police respond to a call from a person claiming that their spouse hit them, when the spouse did not. The person who made the false claim may be charged with making a false report to the police, and could confirm their intent to lie to the police by filing a false report about the alleged abusive incident.
Again, the person who filed the false report may not have intended to provide false information. Their memory could have been unclear when they provided information, or they themselves may have been given false information. Once again, in order to be found guilty of filing a false police report, the defendant must have known or had reason to believe that the report was false.
Is It a Felony to File a False Police Report?
There are both federal and state laws that govern filing a false police report. Again, each individual jurisdiction will determine whether the charge will be a misdemeanor, or a felony. In any case, the defendant’s punishment will likely depend on the severity of the impact the false report had on a criminal investigation, or on the lives of the public.
Punishments could include paying fines, jail time, and/or probation. If charged with a misdemeanor, then the defendant could face fines as well as up to one year spent in jail. If charged with a felony under state or local law, the defendant could face jail time exceeding one year. At the federal level, a person could also be charged filing a false report of terrorism.
This includes both making a threat, such as calling in a false bomb threat, and accusing someone else of making a threat of terrorism. The most severe punishments are generally reserved for those who make a false claim of terrorism, which could include being sentenced to a federal facility for up to twenty years.
If a person files a false report with the intention of accusing someone else of a crime, or to lead the police to investigate an innocent person, then the falsely accused person may file a civil lawsuit. They would do this to seek substantial damages.
With any conviction for a felony, the defendant’s constitutional rights may be impacted. These rights may even include the right to vote, operate a motor vehicle, hold a professional license, and the right to own a firearm.
What Happens If You Lie on a Police Report?
As mentioned above, if you lie on a police report then you may be charged with obstruction of justice or for filing a false police report. Again, the consequences of lying on a police report depend on the specific circumstances surrounding the lie, and the nature of the lie. Minor lies, such as lying about the details of a minor incident to build evidence in a civil case will likely result in misdemeanor penalties.
However, making a material lie such as filing a false report of a bomb threat resulting in the shut down of a location and the use of public resources to search the location would likely result in a felony charge.
In addition to criminal fines and prison time, there may also be civil penalties for filing a false report, especially if the report was filed against another individual or corporation and caused them harm. Civil penalties may include reimbursement of attorney fees for the defendant in defending their claim, damages for lost wages, emotional distress, and other related civil damages.
Do I Need a Lawyer for an Issue with a False Police Report?
If you have filed a police report in good faith, but later learn that information you provided was false, then it is important that you alert law enforcement as soon as possible. If you were charged with filing a false police report, then you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you identify any legal defenses available based on the specifics of your case, as well as represent you in court as needed. Additionally, an attorney can also represent you in any resulting civil cases that may be filed against you for damages that occurred as a result of the false police report.