California Penal Code Section 148.3 Criminalizes Any Knowingly False Report of an Emergency

Penal Code Section 148.3 – False Report of Emergency

Introduction:

Penal Code Section 148.3 addresses numerous scenarios for the reporting of false emergencies, including what is commonly referred to as “swatting.”   A “swatting” incident involves the false report of an active shooter, bomb threat or other emergency serious enough to merit the dispatch of a police S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) Team.  Terrified victims are subsequently subjected to a potentially life-endangering encounter with tense and heavily armed police officers.1

PENAL CODE SECTION 148.3(a) VIOLATIONS:

Elements of the Offense:

The prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant reported, or caused the report to be made to a city, county or state agency2 that an “emergency” exists;
  2. The defendant “knew” that the report was false.

Punishment for Section 148.3(a) Offenses:

  • Misdemeanor Probation and a county jail sentence of up to 365 days;
  • The Defendnat may be required to pay for the full cost of the emergency response pursuant to Penal Code Section 148.3(e).

PENAL CODE SECTION 148.3(b) VIOLATIONS:

Elements of the Offense:

The prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Defendant reported, or caused a report to be made to a city, county or state agency that an emergency exists;
  2. Defendant knew the falsity of the report;
  3. As a result of the report, great bodily injury or death was sustained by one or more people.

Punishment for Section 148.3(b) offenses

A conviction sustained under Penal Code Section 148.3 (b) may not be reduced to a misdemeanor.  The Court may impose the following punishment:

  • Felony probation and a county jail sentence of up to 365 days.
  • Felony Jail Sentence (Prison Sentence Served in a Local Jail) of 16 months, 2 years or 3 years.
  • The Defendant may be required to pay for the full cost of the emergency response pursuant to Penal Code Section 148.3(e).

COMMENTARY:

A rise in “swatting” cases led to the California governor signing Senate Bill 333 in 2013.  SB 333 requires those convicted of Section 148.3(a) and (b) to pay for the full cost of the emergency response.  The bill for a full S.W.A.T. call-out could be extremely expensive.

If a person were seriously injurred in a “swatting” incident, it is highly unlikely that prosecutors would only use Section 148.3(b) due to its light punishment carrying a maximum of three years.  Penal Code Section 148.3(d) allows prosecutors to utilize “any other section of law providing for greater punishment.”  If, for example, someone died during a “swatting” incident, prosecutors might very well file murder charges using several available theories of liability.

Contact a competent criminal defense attorney immediatley if you or a loved one are accused of making a false report under Section 148.3(a) or (b).   This blog article does not create an attorney/client relationship.  It is intended for information purposes only.  You may use it to stimulate a meaningful conversation with a lawyer of your choosing.

SOURCES CITED / NOTES:
1 See “When a SWAT Team Comes to Your House,” The New York Times, July 6, 2017, by Anna North; See also “Swatting prank terrorizes Wisconsin dad, no joke to cops,” CBS News, September 9, 2015.
2 A full reading of the statute includes the following government entities: “any city, county, city and county, or state department, district, agency, commission, or board.”

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