Is filing a false police report a crime?
UPDATED: February 14, 2018
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Filing a false police report can lead to multiple criminal consequences. Many states call this charge "false report to a peace officer." It is one of the few types of speech that is not constitutionally protected. Lying to a law enforcement officer can result in a criminal conviction.
Depending on where you live and the extent of the deception, the criminal charge of filing a false police report can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. Cases that cause less inconvenience to police and other authorities tend to be classified as misdemeanors, while people who create greater confusion or harm by filing a false police report may face felony charges.
What is considered filing a false police report will vary slightly by state, but it’s generally what the name implies—lying to the police. Most people pick up a filing of a false report charge by make affirmative statements that are clearly false. For example, saying that your husband hit you as leverage to be used in a divorce, when he never committed an assault. This isn't an uncommom example. However, filing a false report can also arise out of material omissions which create a false impression.
Some people are tempted to omit certain facts under the “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” theory of disclosure. Continuing with the above example, if a wife calls the police and reports that her husband hit her with a rock, but intentionally leaves out that the rock was thrown when he ran the lawn mower over a rocky patch while doing the yard, then the omission would be a material omission leading to a false impression. It’s material because it explains the accidental nature of the contact, thereby creating the false impression of an intentional act.
Fudging on facts or leaving out major details can lead to a false report charge. However, it can also lead to other criminal charges. For example, if a defendant filed a false police report claiming that their vehicle was stolen, when in fact they ditched the vehicle somewhere hoping that it would never be found because they wanted their insurance company to pay off the car note, then the filing of a false report would only be their first of several charges. The defendant could also be charged with insurance fraud or hindering a secured creditor. Other companion felonies include perjury, theft by deception, and securing execution of a document by deception.
Who and why can also affect the severity of a filing of a false police report charge. Lying to the feds about anything is always a bad idea. False reports to a federal officer in an official investigation will invite a federal charge. Lying to cover another felony charge will not only result in a false report charge, but can also result in felony tampering or hindering apprehension charges. The severity of the false nature of the report will affect how a filing of a false report will be punished.
Consequences and Penalties
Minor infractions, like lying about a misdemeanor offense, usually results in a similar misdemeanor charge. Lying about felony offenses can result in felony level charges. Misdemeanor punishment can result in a sentence ranging from probation to a year or two in county jail. Felony punishment can also result in probation, but a much higher prison sentence, from two to ten years. Even though many people charged with the filing of a false report get probation, they sometimes forget to review the other collateral consequences.
Many false report charges come with severe civil penalties. Defendants, like runaway brides, have not only been given stiff probations, they have also been ordered to reimburse communities that expended funds to deal with the crisis created by the false report. Defendants that lie during custody disputes can actually end up losing custody of their children if the lie is exposed. In addition to the criminal charges, a civil judge can also impose civil sanctions like the payment of attorney’s fees and contempt of court for filing a false report that is connected to a civil suit.
Filing a false report can also result in a separate civil suit. Continuing with the car example, if a defendant lies about where their car is located, the insurance company could sue a defendant for reimbursement of expenses associated with recovering the car. If a defendant falsely accuses someone of crime, which resulted in their being arrested and/or losing their jobs, then a defendant could be held financially liable for defamation. In any filing of a false report case, a defendant could find themselves defending an expensive civil and a criminal suit at the same time.
The bottom line is, despite how desperate your situation is, filing a false police report is not the answer and doing so can have long-term financial and criminal consequences. If you do file a police report and you later learn that information you provided was incorrect, contact the originating agency as quickly as possible to correct your mistake. The longer you wait, the more it will look like you were intentionally trying to deceive law enforcement. If you have been charged with filing a false report, contact a criminal attorney as soon as possible.