The testimony of a police officer is highly significant when it comes to prosecuting criminal charges; for that reason, they are held to a high standard of accountability when filing reports regarding criminal activity.
In fact, Penal Code 118.1 PC makes it a crime for a peace officer to knowingly make a false statement when filing a report concerning a crime—even if they are not under penalty of perjury. If you are a cop and knowingly make a false statement in this context, you could face up to three years in prison if convicted.
In other words, this statute makes it a crime for a police officer to deliberately put false information into a report regarding a criminal matter. It doesn't matter if their report was signed under the penalty of perjury.
Put simply, just writing false information in a police report is sufficient to violate Penal Code 118 PC. If the officer did not sign the report, they could face perjury charges defined under Penal Code 118 PC.
PC 118.1 says: “Every peace officer that files any report with the agency which employs them regarding the commission of any crime or any investigation if they knowingly and intentionally make any statement regarding any material matter in the report which the officer knows to be false, whether or not the statement is certified or expressly reported as true, is guilty of filing a false report punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one, two or three years.”
Information is considered "material" if it's significant to the presented facts. Trivial information will not be considered material. As noted, the report must be connected to a criminal matter. Our California criminal defense attorneys will review this law further below.
Overview of PC 118.1
PC 118.1 addresses a peace officer's testimony in their official capacity when filing a report concerning the commission or investigation of a crime.
Specifically, it's a crime if the peace officer "knowingly and intentionally makes any statement regarding any material matter in the report which the officer knows to be false, whether or not the statement is certified or otherwise expressly reported as true."
Under normal circumstances, any statement "certified" to be true occurs under penalty of perjury. This law makes it a crime for the officer to make false statements even when perjury rules do not apply. This has the same effect as weighing everything the officer puts in the report as a statement made under oath.
To be convicted of making a false police report under Penal Code 118.1 PC, the prosecutor must prove that:
- You are a peace officer, as defined by California law;
- You filed a written report in your official capacity concerning the commission of a crime; and
- When you filed the report, you intentionally provided false information of a material nature, knowing that your statement was false.
A "peace officer" for purposes of this statute can be a police officer, sheriff's deputy, highway patrol officer, or any other type of law enforcement officer in California.
Again, as noted, a police officer is only guilty under this statute if they knowingly enter false information. A related offense is Penal Code 148.5 PC false report of a crime.
What Are Some Examples of This Crime?
EXAMPLE 1: Tom, a highway patrolman, pulls over a suspected drunk driver and asks to perform a field sobriety test, including using a breathalyzer.
The driver refuses, but he is showing other signs of intoxication, so Tom arrests him on suspicion of DUI.
The driver protests loudly but doesn't resist physically. Tom asserts in his report that the driver "resisted arrest" in retaliation for refusing the breathalyzer and protesting his arrest. Tom is guilty of filing a false report because the driver did not resist arrest.
EXAMPLE 2: During a stakeout for a suspected drug deal, Detective Smith kills time by looking at porn on his phone. When the drug deal goes down, Smith and his partner spring into action and arrest the suspects.
In filing his report, Smith says he ate a sandwich when the crime occurred because he didn't want to admit what he was doing. Even though elements of his account were false, Detective Smith is NOT guilty of violating PC 118.1 because his lie is immaterial to the facts of the case.
What Are the Penalties for PC 118.1?
A violation of Penal Code 118.1 PC is a "wobbler" offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case and your criminal history.
- If charged as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail if convicted.
- If charged as a felony, you face one, two, or three years in state prison.
What Are the Common Defenses to Filing a False Report Charges?
Several defenses may be available to you if you have been accused of filing a false report as a peace officer. These are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you did not make a material statement. You may have fudged the truth a little, but not on the facts material to the case. In other words, your false statement has no bearing on the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
Perhaps we can argue that you believed the statement to be true when you made it. For example, if you relay information given by a third party or fellow officer, only to find out later that the information is false, you did not knowingly relay false information and should not be convicted.
Perhaps the statement you made was an honest mistake. You may have misremembered or misunderstood the facts of the case, but you did not intentionally provide false information.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the District Attorney's Office to avoid the formal filing of charges. If you are a police officer and have been accused of filing a false report, contact our law firm to review the details and discuss the legal options.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us for an initial case evaluation by phone or fill out the contact form.