Review of California Penal Code 148.3 PC
In California, reporting any emergency will activate emergency first responders and other services to address the situation. Thus, reporting such an emergency falsely wastes taxpayer dollars and allocates critical resources that may be needed elsewhere.
For these reasons, falsely reporting an emergency is a crime in California under Penal Code 148.3 PC. Simply put, It's a misdemeanor crime for someone to make a false report of a crisis that results in a response from an emergency vehicle, an amber alert, or an evacuation of any area.
In most cases, a PC 148.3 violation is punishable by up to one year in county jail and will carry a fine of up to $1,000.
Penal Code 148.3 falsely reporting an emergency is legally defined as “Anyone who reports, or causes any report to be made, to a city, county, or state department, district, agency, division, commission, or board, that an emergency exists, knowing the report is false, is guilty of a misdemeanor offense.”
Subsection (b) says that anyone falsely reporting an emergency, who knows or should know that the response is likely to cause death or great bodily injury, is guilty of a felony offense that carries imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, we will examine this law in greater detail below.
What Does It Mean to Report an Emergency Falsely?
By legal definition, an "emergency" refers to any situation that could or does cause any of the following responses:
- Dispatching of any emergency vehicle
- An evacuation of any building, vehicle, or geographic area
- An "AMBER Alert"; or
- Activating the Emergency Alert System.
Under PC 148.3, it's a crime to intentionally falsely report any such "emergency" to any department, agency, commission, or division at any level of government, whether it's the city, county, or state.
What Are Some Examples?
- Example 1: Ginny calls 911 and falsely states that her partner John is attacking her, trying to get him arrested for domestic violence as retribution for some other action that would not be considered a crime;
- Example 2: As a practical joke, Jim notifies a police officer standing by that his buddy Dave a half-block away, is carrying a bomb in his backpack. This prompts police to surround Dave with weapons drawn and an evacuation of the area;
- Example 3: Ronald notifies local police that he is afraid that his ex-wife Trudy has run off with their daughter, triggering an AMBER Alert, when in fact, he knows Trudy has their daughter at her home for the weekend per their custody agreement.
What Are the Penalties for PC 148.3?
Under normal circumstances, falsely reporting an emergency is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted of this crime, you could face:
- A maximum fine of $1000;
- A maximum sentence of one year in county jail; and
- Mandatory reimbursement for the cost of any emergency response triggered by the false claim.
If, however, the false emergency results in someone suffering severe bodily injury or death during the response, then the penalties will increase.
For example, if someone got trampled during a hasty evacuation, the charge is upgraded to a felony punishable by up to 3 years in CA state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
What are the Related Crimes?
Several other crimes are similar to, or often charged in tandem with, violations of PC 148.3. These include but aren't limited to below.
False Report of Fire – Penal Code 148.4 PC: examples include falsely calling 911, pulling a fire alarm, or yelling "fire!" in a crowded gathering.
False Report of Crime – Penal Code 148.5 PC: e.g., lying to police about being the victim of a crime or making up a crime that didn't happen.
Bomb Threats - Penal Code 148.1 PC: examples include leaving a "suspicious package" in a public place or calling in a bomb threat.
False Identification to a Peace Officer – Penal Code 148.9 PC: knowingly providing false identification to a police officer, whether verbally or by presenting a fake ID.
Criminal Threats – Penal Code 422 PC: communicating a threat of death or great bodily injury to another person with the intent to terrorize them, regardless of whether there is an actual ability to carry out the threat.
What Are the Defenses to a False Report of Emergency Charge?
The best defense to a false report of an emergency charge will depend on your case's specific facts and circumstances. However, some common reasons that may be raised in these types of cases are listed below.
Mistake of fact. Prosecutors must prove you knowingly reported a false emergency. If you genuinely believed that there was an emergency when you made the call, your attorney can use a mistake of fact as a defense even if there wasn't one.
Lack of intent. You didn't knowingly trigger an emergency response. For example, perhaps you told a cop your friend had an illegal weapon as a joke, but you didn't expect the cop to take it seriously.
There was a genuine emergency. For example, perhaps a legitimate emergency condition existed at the time of your call, but it self-resolved before the police arrived.
No report of an emergency. You made a call to authorities, but it was not to report an emergency. For example, if you were calling to report a general uptick in crime in your area, but it was misinterpreted as a crime in process.
One of the most common arguments against a charge of Penal Code 148.3 false report of an emergency is the absence of intent. In other words, if you did not have the intent to commit the crime, then you can likely avoid a conviction.
Perhaps you had a good faith belief there was an actual emergency, even though a real emergency didn't exist, and you made an error. Recall from above that it must be proven you deliberately and intentionally made a false report of a crime.
Further, it might be possible to negotiate for reduced charges or a case dismissal with the prosecution. In addition, early prefiling negotiation with law enforcement and the District Attorney could persuade them not to file formal criminal charges.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County, and we serve people across Southern California. You can contact our office for an initial case review by calling (877) 781-1570 or filling out the contact form.