If you’re a witness or victim of a crime, one of the first steps to justice is filing a police report, which helps prompt an investigation. And while it is imperative to be completely honest and detailed when making a statement to the authorities, sometimes false statements are given, instead. So, why would somone file a false police report?
There are a 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.
The Charges: Lying To The Police
A false police report always involves the element of knowingly supplying incorrect information, which typically results in the charge of lying to the police or obstruction of justice. There are varying consequences depending on how much damage the lie causes (more on that in a moment), but there is one sure-fire way to avoid getting yourself in that situation.
You’ve heard it before – maybe in a soap opera or a movie – don’t talk to the police without an attorney present. And while it may seem like a cliché line, it is the single most important piece of legal advice when it comes to deterring someone from filing a false police report.
The Consequences: A Misdemenor or Felony Charge
Often, the result of a false report is the obstruction or hindrance of a police investigation. 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.
The Defense: A Criminal Lawyer
If you are in a situation where you have filed a false police report, whether or not it was intentional, it is best to hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 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.
If you’ve ever seen Netflix’s Making A Murderer docuseries, you know just how complex and difficult it can be to clear someone’s name after providing the police with false information. The case of Brenden Dassey is a globally-known example of what can happen when someone speaks to the police without a criminal defense lawyer present.
Brenden Dassey was convicted for life after admitting to charges of rape and murder. The documentary attempts to falsify Dassey’s statement to the police, and while it appears to the public that he was coerced into lying to the officer, he is still in prison. However, if Dassey’s report to the police was in fact false, as the show makes it seem, he could have avoided the entire situation if he would have had a criminal defense lawyer present at the time of the interrogation.
Dassey’s case is just one possible avenue when it comes to lying to the police. There are many other outcomes that can result if you file a false police report. To learn more, check out how long you have to file a police report after a crime has taken place.