What Happens When You File A False Police Report?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Whether it’s investigating crimes or arresting suspects, police have a difficult job. Frequently, they rely on members of the public to provide them with information or to otherwise assist with investigations. A person may make a false police report for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s done to shift the focus of an investigation away from oneself. On other occasions, a false police report may be made in order to make an innocent party appear guilty. Regardless of the reasons, filing a false police report is a serious crime that carries real consequences.

Elements of a False Police Report

It isn’t enough for a person to supply the police with misinformation as the result of a simple mistake or error. A false police report always involves the element of knowingly supplying incorrect information. In other words, the person making the false report must be aware of the inaccuracy of their statements at the time they are made. Usually these statements are made in response to legitimate police inquiries. Often, the result of a false report is the obstruction or hindrance of a police investigation.

Consequences for Filing a False Police Report

Depending upon the jurisdiction, a false police report may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor charges may result in jail terms of one year or less. Typically, the defendant must also pay fines. If a person is charged with a felony, they may be looking at more than a year in jail and substantial fines. The person who made the false report may also be liable in a civil suit, such as if their report caused damage to another’s reputation.

At the federal level, the consequences become even more serious. A false report that involves terrorism is treated the most severely, with prison terms of between seven and 20 years being common. The courts may also consider a false report of terrorism as a violent crime even if no violence occurred.

Defenses for Filing a False Police Report

It’s never a good idea to face false report charges without hiring an attorney. A criminal lawyer is usually a good choice for handling this type of case. They may be able to argue that the statements were not made knowingly or that the statements were not intended to obstruct the work of the police. Defending a false report case is tricky, but it can be successfully handled.

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