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What Happens If I Make a Fake or Prank 911 Call?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Feb 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

911 call

It is a crime in California to make a false 911 call. Depending on the facts of the case, a fake emergency report to 911 could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Per Penal Code 148.3, it is a crime to:

  • report or cause a report to be made,
  • to certain government agencies,
  • that an “emergency” exists,
  • knowing that the report is false.

An emergency report is any condition that results in, or could result in:

  • response of an emergency vehicle, aircraft, or vessel,
  • the evacuation of any area, building, structure, or vehicle, OR
  • activation of the Emergency Alert System.

A person who reports a false 911 emergency is guilty of a misdemeanor if they know that the report is false. The punishment could be up to:

  • one-year county jail,
  • a $1,000 fine.

A false 911 emergency call is a felony if the person making the call:

  • knows that the report is false,
  • knows or should know that the emergency response is likely to cause death or great bodily injury, AND
  • great bodily injury or death results due to the false report.

The punishment for a felony conviction under this law could be up to:

  • three years county jail,
  • a $10,000 fine.

A person convicted of making a fake 911 call is also liable for the reasonable costs of any emergency response.

Please note that this section does not apply if a parent, guardian or custodian of a child makes a good faith report that a child is missing.

There are several possible defenses for someone accused of making a false 911 call:

  • mistaken identity (it wasn't me),
  • good faith belief that the report was true
  • free speech.

Is a Prank 911 Call Also Called Swatting?

Sometimes. Swatting is when someone tries to create an emergency police response against another person under false pretenses. Swatters often do this by calling 911 to falsely report a violent crime like a shooting or hostage situation. The intent is to get a Swat Team response.

Swatters may think what they are doing is a prank, but it can have serious consequences. Swatting occupies law enforcement response teams, making them unavailable to respond to real emergencies.

Is it a Felony to Make a Fake 911 Call?

It could be, depending on what is said to the 911 operator. A false 911 emergency call is a felony if the person making the call:

  • knows that the report is false,
  • knows or should know that the emergency response is likely to cause death or great bodily injury, AND
  • great bodily injury or death results due to the false report.

The punishment for a felony under this law could be up to:

  • three years county jail,
  • a $10,000 fine.

If the false 911 call is a bomb threat, it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony (see Penal Code 148.1). As a misdemeanor, a bomb threat is punishable by up to one year in jail. As a felony it is punishable by up to three years in jail.

A person convicted of making a fake 911 call or bomb threat is liable for the reasonable costs of any emergency response.

What Happens If I Call Police and Falsely Report a Crime?

It is a crime to telephone the police and falsely report a crime. This applies even if it's not a 911 call. Under Penal Code 148.5 (c), any person who:

  • reports that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed,
  • knowing the report is false,
  • is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Falsely reporting a crime is punishable by up to six months in jail.

This law does not apply to mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters are persons required by law to report known or suspected instances of:

  • child abuse,
  • dependent adult abuse, OR
  • elder abuse.

What is the Punishment for Making a Fake 911 Call?

Under Penal Code 148.3 it is a crime to make a false report of an emergency. Making a false report is a misdemeanor punishable by:

  • one year in county jail,
  • $1,000 fine.

Making a false telephone report of an emergency that results in great bodily injury or death to any person is a felony. The punishment could be up to:

  • three years county jail,
  • $10,000 fine.

A person convicted of making a fake 911 call is also liable for the reasonable costs of any emergency response.

Please note if a parent or guardian has a good faith belief that a child is missing it is not considered a false report.

Are There Defenses to Making a Fake 911 Call?

There are several defenses to a charge of making a fake or false 911 emergency call. These include:

  • mistaken identity (it wasn't me),
  • good faith belief that the report was true
  • a mandated reporter made the call,
  • protected free speech.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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