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Falsely Reporting a Crime: What It Is and the Penalties

Falsely Reporting a Crime: What It Is and the Penalties

Filing a false police report, also known as falsely reporting a crime, is a serious offense that can result in fines, probation, and even jail time. This article will explain what constitutes falsely reporting a crime, why people do it, and the typical penalties if convicted.

What is Falsely Reporting a Crime?

Falsely reporting a crime is when someone knowingly makes a false statement to law enforcement alleging that a crime has occurred when they know it did not. This could mean completely fabricating an event or embellishing a real incident to make it sound worse than it was. Some common falsely reported crimes include:

  • False assault claims
  • Fictitious theft reports
  • Made up stalking or harassment
  • False rape accusations
  • Phony reports of vandalism or property damage

While definitions vary by state, in general falsely reporting a crime involves intentionally deceiving law enforcement by alleging criminal conduct that the person knows did not occur. It does not include making a report in good faith that turns out to be inaccurate. However, repeatedly making erroneous claims can still get a person in trouble in some cases.

Why Do People Falsely Report Crimes?

There are many reasons why an individual might falsely report a crime. Some of the most common motivations include:

  • Seeking attention or sympathy
  • Covering up their own criminal activity
  • Trying to get someone else in trouble as revenge
  • Hoping to collect insurance money
  • Mental illness or impairment

For example, a person addicted to pain pills might falsely claim they were mugged to get a new prescription. Or someone who damaged their own car may report it being vandalized to try and get their auto insurance to pay for repairs.

While the motivations run the gamut, falsely reporting a crime is always a bad idea that can lead to serious legal consequences. However, many offenders feel desperate or do not think they will get caught.

Penalties for Falsely Reporting a Crime

The penalties for falsely reporting a crime depend on the specific circumstances and jurisdiction. But in general, potential consequences include:

  • Misdemeanor Charges – Most areas prosecute falsely reporting a crime as a misdemeanor offense. Typical penalties are fines of $1000 or less and up to 1 year in jail.
  • Felony Charges – In some cases, falsely reporting a crime is elevated to a felony. This usually occurs if the false report prompts a major law enforcement response costing substantial time and resources or implicates someone else in a crime. Felony false reporting can result in state or federal prison time of over 1 year.
  • Restitution – Courts may order restitution to compensate police, fire, or EMS agencies for costs incurred responding to the false report.
  • Probation – Offenders may be sentenced to probation including community service and mandatory counseling.
  • Civil Liability – A person falsely accused due to a phony report may be able to sue the reporter for defamation or other civil claims.

The consequences tend to be harsher when the fake report prompts a large-scale law enforcement reaction like mobilizing a SWAT team or triggering an amber alert. Penalties also increase for false reports about very serious crimes like murder, terrorism, or child abductions.

When is a Report Considered False?

For a report to be considered false, the person must knowingly allege facts they understand to be untrue. However, many situations arise where determining a report’s truthfulness is not straightforward:

  • If a person believes they witnessed a crime but are honestly mistaken, that is not considered false reporting.
  • Intoxication or mental impairment may cast doubt on whether the reporter knew their statements were false.
  • Initial misstatements later corrected as new information emerges may not meet the standard for false reporting.
  • Vague reports that exaggerate but have some factual basis are often hard to prosecute.
  • False confessions made under coercion or duress generally do not qualify.

Prosecutors have a high burden of proof to show the person knew their statements were untrue at the time they made the report. Many seemingly dubious reports do not end up meeting that strict standard.

When is False Reporting a Felony?

While falsely reporting a crime is usually a misdemeanor, there are circumstances that can elevate it to a felony charge:

  • The fake report prompts an emergency or major law enforcement response.
  • The false allegations are about a very serious crime like murder, rape, or kidnapping.
  • The phony report implicates someone else in a crime they did not commit.
  • The person has prior convictions for false reporting.
  • The fake report is ruled to be an act of terrorism.

States or the federal government may choose to file felony charges if the false report causes substantial harm, costs, or risk to public safety. Felony convictions can result in over 1 year in prison.

Defenses to False Reporting Charges

While falsely reporting a crime is a serious offense, there are some legal defenses that may apply in certain situations:

  • Lack of Intent – The person genuinely believed their report was true and did not knowingly make false claims.
  • Coercion – Someone forced or threatened the individual to make the false report against their will.
  • Mental State – Due to mental illness, intoxication, or diminished capacity, the person could not form the intent required.
  • First Amendment – The report was an exaggerated political or artistic statement protected by free speech rights.
  • Reasonable Mistake – The report contained inaccuracies but those were reasonable mistakes, not intentional lies.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the case details to identify any viable defenses to false reporting charges.

Falsely Reporting Crimes Wastes Resources and Harms Victims

When law enforcement expends time and resources responding to fabricated reports, it prevents them from helping real victims and solving actual crimes. Phony reports may also result in innocent people being arrested and reputations damaged. While rarely prosecuted, falsely reporting a crime harms communities and erodes public trust. Anyone considering making false allegations should think twice before lying to police.

If you have been accused of falsely reporting a crime, consult with a local defense lawyer right away. An attorney can advise you on the laws in your state and strategically respond to the charges. With an aggressive defense, it may be possible to get the case dismissed or charges reduced. Don’t wait to protect your future.


False Reports | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute
Filing a False Police Report: Laws and Penalties | FindLaw
False Police Reports | CriminalDefenseLawyer.com

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