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Making a False Police Report - Penal Code 148.5 PC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | May 13, 2024

California Penal Code 148.5 PC is the law that prohibits you from making a false police report of a crime. However, false reporting is only a crime if you know it is false. This misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Truthfulness is the cornerstone of the justice system. Any report presented to law enforcement is expected to be truthful, and this expectation is enshrined in the law of California. Falsely reporting a crime to police, prosecutors, or others involved in the justice process is a crime per Penal Code 148.5 PC.

Making a False Police Report - California Penal Code 148.5 PC
PC 148.5 prohibits making a false police report of a crime, but only if you know it is false.

PC 148.5 says, "(a) 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.

(b) Every person who reports to any other peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor if (1) the false information is given while the peace officer is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as a peace officer and (2) the person providing the false information knows or should have known that the person receiving the information is a peace officer.

(c) Except as provided in subdivisions (a) and (b), every person who reports to any employee who is assigned to accept reports from citizens, either directly or by telephone, and who is employed by a state or local agency which is designated in Section 830.1, 830.2, subdivision (e) of Section 830.3, Section 830.31, 830.32, 830.33, 830.34, 830.35, 830.36, 830.37, or 830.4, that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor if (1) the false information is given while the employee is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as an agency employee and (2) the person providing the false information knows or should have known that the person receiving the information is an agency employee engaged in the performance of the duties described in this subdivision.

(d) Every person who makes a report to a grand jury that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor. This subdivision shall not be construed as prohibiting or precluding a charge of perjury or contempt for any report made under oath in an investigation or proceeding before a grand jury.

(e) This section does not apply to reports made by persons who are required by statute to report known or suspected instances of child abuse, dependent adult abuse, or elder abuse.

(f) This section applies to a person who reports to a person described in subdivision (a), (b), or (c) that a firearm, as defined in subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 16520, has been lost or stolen, knowing the report to be false."

What Does the Law Say?

Under Penal Code 148.5, it is a misdemeanor offense for any individual to knowingly report to a peace officer or for others acting in an official capacity that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed when they are aware that this report is false.

This law applies to reports made to a broad range of law enforcement personnel and agencies, including:

  • Police officers in any jurisdiction.
  • The Attorney General.
  • A deputy attorney general.
  • A district attorney or deputy district attorney.
  • A grand jury.
  • Any other employee of an agency assigned to receive such reports.

What are the Elements of the Crime?

For an accusation under Penal Code 148.5 to stand, prosecutors must prove certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt. These include:

  • You reported falsely that a felony or misdemeanor had been committed.
  • You reported this information to a peace officer or other official as described by the statute.
  • The official to whom you reported was acting in their official duties at the time.
  • You knew when you made the report that the information was false.
  • You made the report with the intent to deceive the authorities.

What is the Exception to the Rule

PC 148.5 makes a specific exception for "mandatory reporters," those who are required by law to report suspected acts of child abuse, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse. Mandatory reporters include, but are not limited to:

  • Teachers and school staff.
  • Medical professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses).
  • Members of the clergy.
  • Daycare administrators and staff.
  • Administrators and employees of day camps and other children/youth-oriented programs.

Although mandatory reporters are still expected to report truthfully to the best of their ability, this exception applies so they will not fear criminal consequences for doing their duty.

What are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: John accidentally loses a piece of expensive jewelry that a friend entrusted him with for safekeeping. Fearing the repercussions of his carelessness, John falsely reports to police that someone broke into his home and stole the jewelry. John can be charged under PC 148.5.

EXAMPLE 2: Jane is a retail store owner involved in a heated dispute with a competitor. Seeking to gain the upper hand, Jane falsely reports to police that her competitor has vandalized her store, possibly even doing some damage herself to make things look believable and to tarnish her competitor's reputation. Jane can be charged with falsely reporting a crime to the police.

EXAMPLE 3: Gina, an elementary school teacher, notices that one of her students regularly shows up to school with bruises on his arms. Suspecting possible child abuse, Gina makes a report to authorities, a report which ultimately proves to be false. Even if prosecutors suspect Gina knowingly made a false report, she is exempt from prosecution under PC 148.5 as a mandatory reporter.

What are Related Crimes?

Several California laws are related to Penal Code 148.5 PC making a false report of a crime, including the following:

  • Penal Code 148.3 PC false report of an emergency. This law prohibits falsely reporting an emergency, which is any situation that might result in the response of an emergency vehicle, aircraft, vessel, evacuation of any area, building, structure, vehicle, or any other place, or an Amber alert.
  • Penal Code 148.9 PC false identification to a police officer. This law makes it a crime for someone to provide false identification to a police officer and do so knowing it is false, including giving a law enforcement officer a false birth date.
  • Penal Code 148.4 PC false report of a fire. This law makes it a crime to make false reports of a fire, including tampering with or breaking fire alarms, triggering a false fire alarm, and intentionally reporting a fire falsely.

What are the PC 148.5 Penalties?

Violating Penal Code 148.5 is a misdemeanor offense. The typical consequences for those found guilty include, but are not limited to:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Up to $1000 in fines
  • Probation, with stipulations that may include community service or counseling.

What are the PC 148.5 Defenses?

If you're accused of making a false report, a California criminal defense attorney can utilize one or more defense strategies to counter the charges. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Lack of Knowledge: You were not aware that the report was false when it was made.
  • Mistake of Fact: You genuinely believed the reported information was true, based on a misunderstanding or receiving incorrect information.
  • No Intent to Deceive: For example, you simply repeated something you heard without inferring whether the information was true.
  • No Report to an Official on Duty: PC 148.5 only applies if you make a false report to someone operating in an official capacity. Your attorney could argue that the person was not on duty or that you didn't expect them to act within their authority. For example, perhaps your statements were made casually to an off-duty cop who was your neighbor.

Contact our criminal defense law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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