False Report of a Crime

Making a false report of a crime is illegal according to section 148.5 of the California Penal Code.

false report of a crime - long beach criminal lawyer
false report of a crime - long beach criminal lawyer

A violation of 148.5 does not occur when a person mistakenly reports a crime. As long as the person acted in good faith on a belief they thought to be true, they have not violated of this statute, even if their report proves incorrect.

Making a false report of a crime is illegal according to section 148.5 of the California Penal Code. The reason for this law’s existence is to prevent the waste of valuable public resources, time, and money, as well as to discourage defamation of the character of innocent persons.

Elements of the offense

For the prosecution to obtain a conviction under 148.5 PC, all of the following elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant made a false report of a crime, which they knew to be false.
  2. The report was made to a peace (police) officer, attorney, grand jury member, other court officer, or someone who is designated to accept such reports.

A violation of 148.5 does not occur when a person mistakenly reports a crime. As long as the person acted in good faith on a belief they thought to be true, they have not violated of this statute, even if their report proves incorrect.

It is also worthwhile noting that whether a report is unsolicited or solicited has no bearing on a violation under this statute. An unsolicited report is when an individual takes the initiative to contact law enforcement to make the false report. In contrast, a solicited report is information given to the police when they are conducting an investigation and/or asking questions. Whether the defendant was the one who initially contacted the police or not, falsely alleging that a crime has occurred violates 148.5 PC.

Related offenses

Closely related to this offense are 148.3 PC, falsely reporting an emergency and 148.4 PC, falsely reporting a fire.

148.3 PC (falsely reporting an emergency) covers any false report which results in any of the following:

  • The dispatch of emergency vehicles such as fire engines and/or ambulances.
  • Evacuation of a structure.
  • Triggering an Amber Alert.

148.4 PC (falsely reporting a fire) covers actions such as:

  • False reporting of an actual fire.
  • Triggering a fire alarm without an emergency.
  • Tampering with any fire protection equipment such as fire alarms or extinguishers.

Criminal penalties for false report of a crime

A violation of 148.5 PC is a wobbler, meaning that it can be charged and sentenced as either a felony or a misdemeanor. To make this determination, the prosecutor and judge consider the totality of the circumstances, the facts of the case, the defendant’s motive for making the report, the consequences of the report—if any—and any prior criminal history of the defendant.

In the majority of cases, making a false report of a crime is a misdemeanor that can be punished by any or all of:

  • Up to six months in county jail.
  • A fine of up to $1,000.
  • Probation.
  • Reimbursement for the wasted time and resources of law enforcement and/or emergency medical agencies that responded as a result of the report.

In many cases, probation is given in lieu of incarceration — particularly for first-time offenders – due to California’s overcrowded incarceration system.

If the defendant has one or more prior convictions for making a false report, the prosecution has the option of charging the offense as a felony. Additionally, if the false report caused great bodily injury or death – for example, a police car responding to the report struck and killed a pedestrian – the defendant can be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Legal defenses

Anyone accused of false report of a crime should seek advice from a qualified criminal defense attorney. Most legal defenses for this offense center on showing the defendant reasonably believed that an emergency or crime was occurring at the time they made the report. However, the facts and circumstances of every case are different, and only an attorney can provide appropriate legal advice.