The public regularly file police reports of crimes committed which provide information relevant to an ongoing police investigation. However, when you file a false report to mislead the police, you can obstruct an investigation and waste police time, money and resources.

When you knowingly file a police report containing misinformation, you may be charged with filing a false report and other related offenses. Keep in mind that you can be charged whether you affirmatively make a false statement or you deliberately omit information that is material to a criminal investigation.

What are the Elements for Filing a False Police Report?

When you provide information to the police that you know to be false, you are guilty of filing a false report. The law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions satisfy the elements of the crime with you are charged.

The specific elements of the crime may vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but you can anticipate that you will be convicted if the prosecution can prove that you knowingly or deliberately made a false report to the police in response to a legitimate criminal inquiry and, in so doing, your actions deceived the police or hindered a criminal investigation.

Note that the operable element of the crime is your intent in making the statement to the law enforcement officer. For example, if the police respond to a call from your home and you affirmatively tell the police that your spouse hit you when they did not, you may be charged with making a false report to the police. You can affirm your intent to lie to the police by filing a false report about the alleged incident.  

What Will Happen to Me If I File a False Police Report?

You can be charged under federal and state law for making a false statement to a law enforcement officer. Your jurisdiction will determine whether the charge will be a misdemeanor or a felony. The bottom line is your punishment may depend on the severity of the impact on a criminal investigation or the lives of the public.

Your punishment could include paying fines, probation or even jail time. If charged with a misdemeanor, you may be required to pay fines and sentenced up to a year in jail. If charged with a felony under state or federal law, you may be subject to time in jail of more than a year. At the federal level you may even be charged with filing a false report of terrorism, which includes both making a threat (i.e. calling in a false bomb threat at a stadium) as well as accusing someone else of making a threat of terrorism.

The most severe punishments are reserved for those whose actions substantially interfere with the work of law enforcement charged with national security or  for those actions that result in serious injury or death to someone. When you a file false report of terrorism, it leads to increased public fear and alarm, which in turn leads to injuries.

These types of reports also put a drain on resources and personnel who respond to the threats; they also distract law enforcement from pursuing real threats. If convicted, you may be sentenced to a federal facility for as much as twenty years and have to pay substantial fines.

If you filed a false report accusing someone else of a crime or leading the police investigation to an innocent person, that person can file a civil lawsuit against you seeking substantial damages.

Furthermore, with any conviction for a felony, your immigration status may be impacted, as well as your constitutional rights, such as the right to carry, own or possess a gun.

Do I Have any Defenses if I Am Charged with Filing a False Police Report?

A good criminal attorney can help you identify whether there are any defenses available to you when you are charged with filing a false report or related crimes. Typically, these defenses will focus on your state of mind at the time you filed your report.

For example, did you make your statements to the police knowing they were false at the time, or were you, perhaps, under duress or otherwise mentally impaired? Or, did you even have the intent to deceive the police or hinder a criminal investigation? Thus, your state of mind can have significant effects on your ability to raise a defense.  

Do I Need to Contact an Attorney if I Am Facing Charges for Filing a False Police Report?

Filing a false report is a serious crime in every jurisdiction and can lead to significant civil and criminal consequences. If you filed a report in good faith but later learn that the information contained in it are no longer true, you should alert law enforcement as soon as possible.  If you have been charged with filing a false police report, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney in your area.