The public relies on police officers to help keep communities safe, contribute to the established order, and enforce the law. When performing official duties, police officers find themselves bound by the same laws as the citizenry. When law enforcement officers break the law, they may face criminal charges just like any other citizen. One law that specifically addresses police corruption is California Penal Code Section 118.1 PC. This statute covers the matter of “police officers filing false reports.”
Police Report Defined
A police report is simply a document that chronicles information related to a crime, accident, or other incident. The officer delivers the report to the law enforcement agency in which he/she works for. The officer may put forth opinions in the report, but must note the commentary reflects an opinion. The bulk of the police report, however, contains statements of facts. For example, if the officer saw someone drive through a red light prior to a crash, the officer would report the event as he/she saw them happen. The officer cannot simply make facts up to fit a particular narrative.
The Filing of a False Police Report
A police officer becomes guilty of filing a false police report when he/she “knowingly and intentionally” puts false or inaccurate information related to a material fact in the police report. One example of filing a false police report would entail an officer shooting a suspect because the person pulled a gun when, in fact, the officer knows the suspect never did. The officer did not mistakenly believe a weapon was present. Instead, he/she clearly knew there was no firearm in the suspect’s hands during the incident. The officer chose to make such a statement to further justify the shooting. Other examples could be less dire, but still criminal. An officer who lies and claims he/she smelled marijuana as a pretext for probable cause to search a car would be making a false claim in a report.
In all circumstances, deliberately lying on a police report with the intent to deceive or sway a prosecutor, judge, or jury remains a crime. An officer suspected of such a crime may find him/herself in front of a grand jury facing serious charges and penalties.
Charges and Penalties Related to Filing a False Police Report
A police officer who files a false report can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor looks closely at the specifics of the case to determine whether it will be charged as one or the other.
If charged with a misdemeanor, the officer faces up to one year in the county jail. With a felony, the penalty becomes much harsher. A convicted officer would be looking at one to three years in state prison. A conviction of either a misdemeanor or a felony results in a permanent criminal record.
Police officers convicted of this crime would surely face expulsion from the force. A loss of a pension goes with the firing. The possibility does exist that the officer may also be sued in civil court for engaging in criminal activity when filing the police report.
Defenses for Charges of a Police Officer Filing a False Report
As is the case with all other criminal charges, a person remains innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Defenses to these types of charges can take different forms. A simple mistake doesn’t rise to the same level as a willful or deliberate false statement. Being unknowing relayed false information from a witness or other third party lifts blame from the officer’s shoulders. False statements that are immaterial such as noting someone wore a blue shirt instead of a red one don’t rise to criminal statements. An experienced criminal defense lawyer could present the true circumstances surrounding the statements in court. The attorney can also address plea bargains, sentencing, and other important matters connected to potential guilty pleas.