This is the U.S.A, you can say what you want, right? Well, often that's true under freedom of speech, but filing a false police report is one of the few types of speech not protected by the First Amendment. In fact, a person who makes a false police report against you may be found guilty of a crime, and you can file a court action for any damage to your reputation.
A person making a false police report can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony in most states. And if the report targets you and damages your reputation, you can sue the person for defamation of character.
Making a False Police Report
Someone who files a police report that contains information that isn't true hasn't necessarily filed a false police report. She may identify the hit-and-run car as blue when it was black, or say the driver was a young woman when in fact it was a mature woman. Everybody makes errors in eye-witness testimony, and nobody can or should fault them for it.
Making a false police report is a different thing altogether. It involves intentionally feeding the police incorrect information, usually for one of two purposes: to shield themselves from police scrutiny for a crime they committed, or to implicate an innocent person for a crime as personal revenge. The types of false information given may include:
- Reporting a crime that did not occur
- Using a false name
- Giving false information about the crime
- Falsely reporting some type of theft or damage
- Deliberately exaggerating the value of items stolen
The person making an intentionally false police report can be charged criminally. Depending on the jurisdiction and the facts of the situation, it can be a misdemeanor or a felony.
For example, in California, it is a misdemeanor to make a false report of a committed crime, whether misdemeanor or felony, to the police, prosecutor, grand jury or 911 operator. As a misdemeanor, a person convicted faces up to six months in county jail. However, if you make a false report of a stolen vehicle, you can be charged with a felony. Likewise, if the false police report is made in order to file an insurance claim, it is considered insurance fraud, which is prosecuted as a felony.
Federal law can be even tougher. For example, filing a false police report about terrorist activity is a felony under federal law. A false report involving terrorism can trigger a sentence of between seven and 20 years.
Defamation of Character
If someone files a false police report about you, you may be able to sue for monetary damages for defamation of character. You must prove that the report was false, since truth is a complete defense. You also have to prove that the person knew it was false when it was made.
Finally, you have to show that the false police report about you was "injurious." Remember that defamation law focuses on injuries to reputation. That means you have to prove that your reputation was hurt by the statement. If you lost your job, lost friends or the good opinion of family or neighbors, you may have a good defamation case.