What Are California's Laws on False Reporting an Emergency?

Calling the police to report a crime that isn’t happening is called false reporting. Because such actions unnecessarily use law enforcement resources, these crimes are harshly prosecuted. If you are convicted of this offense, you could be sentenced to jail and/or subjected to a fine.

False Reporting a Crime

In California, if you deliberately tell law enforcement that a crime has been or is being committed when you know one hasn’t, you are considered to have made a false report.

California Penal Code 148.5 specifically states that it is illegal to knowingly make a false report of the commission of a felony or misdemeanor to the following:

  • Peace officer
  • Attorney general
  • Deputy attorney general
  • District attorney
  • Deputy district attorney
  • Police dispatcher
  • Grand jury

An example of false reporting would be if you called the police to report that someone broke into your house when no such incident occurred. You could be charged with a misdemeanor for engaging in such conduct.

False Reporting an Emergency

California also has another law against false reporting. This one is specifically concerned with reports of emergencies to have police respond.

According to California Penal Code 148.3, an emergency is defined as an event that could result in:

  • An emergency vehicle, aircraft, or vessel being dispatched;
  • A building, structure, or vehicle being evacuated; or
  • The Emergency Alert System being activated

If you false report an emergency situation, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. It is a misdemeanor to tell a government official or agency that an emergency exists when you know one does not. You could face up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for your actions.

You could be charged with a felony if you know your report will result in great bodily injury or death, or such a consequence occurs because of your actions. Let’s say you called the police to report that the person who broke into your home was holding your family hostage. If there was a full emergency response, and an officer fatally shot one of the occupants, you may be charged with felony false reporting an emergency. This is true regardless of whether or not you knew the person in your home would be killed when law enforcement arrived. If convicted, you could be imprisoned for 16 months or 2 or 3 years and/or be fined up to $10,000.

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