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What Are the Penalties for Falsely Reporting a Kidnapping?

Posted in News on October 7, 2016

Recently, a 13-year- old girl called the Chula Vista Police Department to report an attempted kidnapping. She claimed a man in her neighborhood pulled up to her in a white van during her 8 a.m. walk to Robert L. Mueller Charter Elementary School. According to the girl, the man exited the van, grabbed her arm, and said, “Let’s go, let’s go.” Her story is a harrowing reminder of every child’s risk of kidnapping – or it would be – if it were true. After an in-depth investigation in front of her mother, the girl confessed that she made the story up. While police did not charge the girl in this case, California does have penalties for falsely reporting a crime.

California Penal Code § 148.3

According to the California Penal Code § 148.3, anyone who reports an emergency to any city, county, or state department while knowing the report is false is guilty of a misdemeanor upon conviction. Falsely reporting a kidnapping in California is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year and/or fines up to $1,000. A misdemeanor stays on an individual’s record until he or she can reopen the case and convince the court to dismiss the conviction (expungement).

In a case where an individual understands that the false report is likely to cause great bodily harm or death, and when this outcome occurs due to the report, the state classifies this crime as a felony. The penalty for such a felony is imprisonment pursuant to subdivision, meaning up to 16 months, two, or three years in county jail. The convicted felon may also have to pay fines not exceeding $10,000, or pay the fine and serve jail time. The consequences of a felony conviction in California can be lifelong, making it difficult to find employment and become a productive member of the community.

The Penal Code defines an “emergency” as any condition that could potentially result in a public official responding in an emergency vehicle, the evacuation of any area, or a situation that results in activation of the Emergency Alert System. Anything that could jeopardize public safety is a potential emergency. If a parent, guardian, or other individual makes the report in good faith, based on a genuine belief that a child is missing, it will not constitute an emergency based on Penal Code 148.3.

Liabilities for False Kidnapping Reports

On top of a misdemeanor or felony conviction, an individual who falsely reports a kidnapping or other emergency may owe compensation to the public agency that responded to the report. This compensation would cover the reasonable costs of the emergency response the report caused. An individual who makes a false report may therefore have to pay the costs of emergency vehicles, vessels, or aircraft deployment out of pocket, as well as any other expenses the public agency has in relation to the false report.

The presiding judge in a false report case has discretion over the fines, jail time, probation, and liabilities of convicted individuals. Depending on the damages the false report caused, the consequences will differ. In the case of the 13-year- old girl in Chula Vista, the courts likely decided not to press charges due to her young age and the fact that nobody suffered bodily injury or death because of her false report. In other false kidnapping reports, the penalties can be much more severe, especially if the report triggers an Amber Alert.

 

Sources:

http://www.10news.com/news/police-man- tries-to- nab-girl- in-chula- vista

https://timesofsandiego.com/crime/2016/09/14/teens-bogus- kidnapping-story- leads-police-

search/

http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/archive/documents/FalseReporting.pdf

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001- 01000&file=142-181

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