California Penal Code Section 148.5
California Penal Code section 148.5 states, “Every person who reports to any peace officer listed in Section 830.1 or 830.2, or subdivision (a) of Section 830.33, the Attorney General, or a deputy attorney general, or a district attorney, or a deputy district attorney that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
What Constitutes a Violation of PC 148.5?
In order to be criminally charged with making a false report of a crime, you must have satisfied the three elements that are required to constitute a violation of PC 148.5. The three elements are the following:
- You or a third party made a report of a misdemeanor or felony
- You or a third party made the report to an “authority”
- You either:
- Made the report based on false information OR
- Supported a criminal report made by a third party with false information
Penal code 148.5 only encompasses misdemeanors and felonies, meaning that making a report of an infraction would not violate this law. It is required that you knew that the misdemeanor or felony was based on false information, meaning that merely making a mistake and reporting a crime that you truly thought occurred would not be a violation of PC 148.5.
The law defines a figure of “authority” as anyone who is delegated by the state to accept criminal reports. This includes police officers, emergency line operators, prosecutors, a grand jury, etc.
Keep in mind that you are not required to make a false report yourself to be charged with the crime. If a 3rd party makes a criminal report, whether it actually happened or not, then you could be charged with violating PC 148.5 if you made a false statement at any point during the investigation.
EX: Your neighbor’s car is not at their house one day so they report it as stolen. When the police investigate, they ask you if you saw who stole it. Because you really dislike the landlord of your building, you falsely tell the police that you witnessed the landlord steal the car. You would be guilty of violating PC 148.5 because your statements are inherently reporting your landlord as the culprit even if you didn’t make the initial report.
What Are the Punishments for Making a False Report of a Crime?
Making a false report of a crime is considered a misdemeanor offense in California. This means that you can spend up to 6 months in county jail, and/or pay a maximum fine of $1,000. This crime can also be expunged from one’s criminal record upon completion of probation or a jail sentence.
How Can I Defend Myself If I Am Accused of Violating PC 148.5?
There are several common defenses to a violation of PC 148.5. They include:
- You did not know the report or the information that you gave was false
- The report was not made to a figure of “authority”
- The crime reported was not a misdemeanor or felony offense
Even if you gave false information in a criminal report, it is required that you knew that your statements were false. Mistakenly giving a false statement is not a crime.
The statute also specifies that the false report must be made to someone who is delegated by the state to accept reports of crimes. For instance, if say you made a false report to a security guard at a night club, not to an actual police officer. This would not be considered a violation of PC 148.5.
Lastly, it is required that the crime in question was a misdemeanor or felony, meaning that minor infractions would not be counted. Falsely reporting a nearby car of failing to signal when changing lanes would not constitute breaking this law because the traffic violation was not a misdemeanor or felony.