Penal Code 148.3 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to make a false report of an emergency. An emergency includes a condition that triggers the response of an emergency vehicle, an AMBER Alert, or the evacuation of any area. Most violations of this law are misdemeanor offenses punishable by up to one year in county jail.
148.3 PC states that “any individual who reports, or causes any report to be made, to any city, county, city and county, or state department, district, agency, division, commission, or board, that an “emergency” exists, knowing that the report is false, is guilty of a misdemeanor…”.
- calling a police officer and reporting an incident of domestic violence as “payback” to a spouse.
- swatting, or making prank phone calls to emergency response services.
- screaming “dog attack” in a neighborhood when no dogs are around.
A defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge allegations of violating California Penal Code Section 148.3. Common defenses include:
- mistake of fact,
- the accused showing that there was an actual emergency, and/or
- the defendant showing that there was no report of an “emergency.”
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of one-thousand dollars.
A judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. When is making a false report of an emergency a crime?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating PC 148.3?
- 4. Can a defendant get a conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there similar offenses?
1. When is making a false report of an emergency a crime?
It is a crime, per PC 148.3, for a person to intentionally make any false report of emergency.1
California law defines “emergency” as any condition that might, or does, trigger:
- the response of an emergency vehicle (e.g., a fire department truck), aircraft, or vessel,
- the evacuation of any area, building, structure, vehicle, or of any other place,
- the activation of the Emergency Alert System, or
- an AMBER alert.2
2. Are there legal defenses?
Defense lawyers can use several legal strategies to contest false emergency charges. These include showing that:
- there was a mistake of fact.
- there was a real emergency
- the defendant made a report, but it was not about an emergency.
2.1. Mistake of fact
In a mistake of fact defense, an accused asserts that he/she did not have the intent to commit a crime because he or she misunderstood a particular fact. In the context of this statute, an accused could assert that his/her understanding of the facts led to a good faith belief that an emergency was occurring. If this belief was reasonable, then the defense works even though a true emergency did not exist.
2.2. Actual emergency
These laws only prohibit the report of a false or fake emergency. This means parties are free to report real emergencies as they occur. A defendant, then, can try to establish that his or her report was on an actual emergency.
2.3. No report of an “emergency”
Recall that “emergency” has a technical definition under California law. An accused, therefore, could assert that while he/she made a report to law enforcement, it was not on an emergency. Perhaps, for example, the defendant made a report on recent criminal activity in a neighborhood.
3. What are the penalties for violating PC 148.3?
PC 148.3 sets forth the crime of making a false report of an emergency. A conviction thereof is a misdemeanor.
The crime is punishable by:
- a maximum of one year in county jail time, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.3
In addition, a conviction means the defendant would have to reimburse the applicable public agency for any expenses related to the emergency response.4
Note that if the false alarm results in someone suffering great bodily injury or death, then the district attorney can charge the offense as a felony. As such, the judge can sentence the defendant to up to three years in California State Prison.5
4. Can a defendant get a conviction expunged?
A defendant can get a misdemeanor conviction expunged. This is provided that he or she successfully completes:
- any jail time imposed, or
- probation (if awarded).
A felony conviction, though, cannot get expunged. This is because expungement is not allowed if an offense results in a prison sentence.
5. Are there similar offenses?
There are three crimes related to making false emergency reports. These are:
- making a false report of a fire – PC 148.4,
- making a false report of a crime – PC 148.5, and
- making a false identification to a peace officer PC 148.9.
5.1. False report of a fire – PC 148.4
Penal Code 148.4 PC is the California law making it a crime to make false reports of a fire.
Specifically, this section prohibits:
- tampering with or breaking fire alarms or fire protection equipment (such as extinguishers),
- triggering a false fire alarm, or
- making a false report of a fire.6
While PC 148.3 applies to all emergencies, this statute is limited to only false fires.
5.2. False report of a crime – PC 148.5
Penal Code 148.5 PC is the California statute that makes it illegal to make a false police report of a crime. False reporting is only a crime if the person making the report knows it to be false.
Unlike with the false report of an emergency, there has to be an allegation of a false criminal act for a conviction under this law.
5.3. False identification to a peace officer – PC 148.9
Penal Code 148.9 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person knowingly to provide false identification to a police officer.
Note that if a person makes a false report of an emergency to a police officer, and provides a fake name, then he/she can be charged under both:
- Penal Code 148.3, and
- Penal Code 148.9.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact the Shouse Law Group. We provide trusted legal advice and offer a free consultation. Our law firm represents clients throughout California State, including those in Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
- California Penal Code 148.3 PC.
- California Penal Code 148.3c PC.
- California Penal Code 148.3a PC.
- California Penal Code 148.3e PC.
- California Penal Code 148.3b PC.
- California Penal Code 148.4 PC.