Penal Code 148.5 PC prohibits you from making a false police report of a crime. False reporting is only a crime if the person making the report knows it to be false. The offense is punishable by up to 6 months in jail.
We will quote the full language of the statute, and then provide legal analysis below:
148.5. (a) Every person who reports to any peace officer listed in Section 830.1 or 830.2, or subdivision (a) of Section 830.33, the Attorney General, or a deputy attorney general, or a district attorney, or a deputy district attorney that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) Every person who reports to any other peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor if (1) the false information is given while the peace officer is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as a peace officer and (2) the person providing the false information knows or should have known that the person receiving the information is a peace officer.
(c) Except as provided in subdivisions (a) and (b), every person who reports to any employee who is assigned to accept reports from citizens, either directly or by telephone, and who is employed by a state or local agency which is designated in Section 830.1, 830.2, subdivision (e) of Section 830.3, Section 830.31, 830.32, 830.33, 830.34, 830.35, 830.36, 830.37, or 830.4, that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor if (1) the false information is given while the employee is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as an agency employee and (2) the person providing the false information knows or should have known that the person receiving the information is an agency employee engaged in the performance of the duties described in this subdivision.
(d) Every person who makes a report to a grand jury that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor. This subdivision shall not be construed as prohibiting or precluding a charge of perjury or contempt for any report made under oath in an investigation or proceeding before a grand jury.
(e) This section does not apply to reports made by persons who are required by statute to report known or suspected instances of child abuse, dependent adult abuse, or elder abuse.
(f) This section applies to a person who reports to a person described in subdivision (a), (b), or (c), that a firearm, as defined in subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 16520, has been lost or stolen, knowing the report to be false.
- lying to police that a neighbor trespassed (a crime under Penal Code 602 PC).
- telling a DA investigator that an ex was a prostitute (a crime under Penal Code 647b PC).
- lying to officers, during an investigation, that one person assaulted someone else
Several criminal defense strategies can be employed to attack the charges in court. Common defenses include showing that the defendant:
- had a good faith belief that the crime really did happen
- did not make a report to the “authorities,” and/or
- was falsely accused.
A violation of this law is a misdemeanor under California state law. The criminal offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is it a crime to make a false police report in California?
- 2. What are the best criminal defense strategies?
- 3. What are the 148.5 PC penalties?
- 4. Does this offense give a person a criminal record?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. When is it a crime to make a false police report in California?
A prosecutor has to prove the following in order to convict a person under this statute:
- the defendant made a false report of a misdemeanor or felony, and
- the accused made the report to a certain “authority.”1
“Authority” under this statute means a:
- police officer,
- grand jury, or
- state or local employee assigned to accept reports from citizens (like a 911 operator).
Note that this law applies to when a person contacts the police and makes a false report. It also applies when:
- a third party reports a crime to the police initially, and
- the defendant then gives a false statement when the police investigate the matter.2
Example: Colleen sees her brother in a fist fight with a neighbor. Her brother started it by just going up to the kid (Billy) and punching him. Someone in the neighborhood calls the police. The cops ask Colleen for a statement and she says, “Billy started it. He just started hitting and kicking my brother.”
Here, Colleen is guilty under PC 148.5. This is true even though she was not the first party to report the fight. She reported false information to the police about a criminal matter.
2. What are the best criminal defense strategies?
A defendant can try to beat a criminal charge under this statute with a good legal defense to raise a reasonable doubt.
Three common defenses are to show that:
- the defendant had a good faith belief that a report was true,
- the accused made a false report to someone other than an “authority,” and/or
- the defendant was falsely accused.
2.1. Good faith belief that the report is true
This statute only applies when the person making a report knows it to be false. It is always a defense if the accused had a good faith belief that a report was true, even if that belief turns out to be a mistake.
2.2. Report not made to “authorities”
A person is only guilty under these laws if he made a false report to some type of authoritative figure, such as a police officer. This means it is a defense for a defendant to say he did not make a report to the “authorities.” Perhaps, for example, the accused just lied to store security that he had witnessed a person shoplifting.
2.3. Falsely accused
Unfortunately, people get falsely accused of this crime on numerous occasions. Neighbors, ex-friends, and others, make up stories about a defendant making a false report. The defense is always available, then, that the accused was unjustly blamed.
3. What are the 148.5 PC penalties?
A violation of this law is a misdemeanor.
The punishment for filing a false police report can include:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.3
4. Does this offense give a person a criminal record?
Yes, if it results in a conviction. However, a person can get an expungement if convicted of making a false report. An expungement is favorable since it erases many of the burdens of a conviction.
A judge will grant an expungement if a convicted party successfully completes:
- probation, or
- his jail term (whichever was imposed).
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to making a false report of a crime. These are:
- false report of an emergency – PC 148.3,
- false report of a fire – PC 148.4, and
- false identification to a police officer – PC 148.9
5.1. False report of an emergency – PC 148.3
Penal Code 148.3 PC is the California law making it a crime to falsely report an emergency.
An “emergency” is any condition that might (or does) trigger:
- the response of an emergency vehicle, aircraft or vessel,
- the evacuation of any area, building, structure, vehicle, or of any other place, or
- an Amber alert.
5.2. 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,
- triggering a false fire alarm, and
- making a false report of a fire.
5.3. False identification to a police officer – PC 148.9
Penal Code 148.9 PC is the California statute that makes it crime for a person to:
- provide false identification to a police officer, and
- do so knowing that it is false identification.
Note that “false identification” includes giving law enforcement officers a false birth date.4
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
To learn of similar laws in Nevada and Colorado, please see our articles on:
- “Nevada Laws for Making a False Police Report (NRS 207.280),” and
- “Colorado False Reporting of a Crime Laws C.R.S. (18-8-110, 18-8-111).”
- California Penal Code 148.5 PC. See also Hillblom v. County of Fresno (2008), 539 F. Supp. 2d 1192.
- People v. Lawson (1979) 100 Cal.App.3d 60.
- California Penal Code 19.
- People v. Ivan J. (2001), 88 Cal. App. 4th 27.