It is a crime in California for peace officers to knowingly make a false statement in a report. The California Penal Code makes it a criminal offense even if the officer does not make the report under penalty of perjury. In other words, even if the officer does not certify it as true, here she may be charged under the statute.
Typically, the crime of perjury under California Penal Code section 118, requires that the person has taken an oath or testified declared, deposed, or certified under penalty of perjury to be found guilty of the crime. California Penal Code section 118.1 governs the crime of law enforcement –“peace”- officers who intentionally make false statements in a report.
“Every peace officer who files any report with the agency which employs him or her regarding the commission of any crime or any investigation of any crime, if he or she knowingly and intentionally makes any statement regarding any material matter in the report which the officer knows to be false, whether or not the statement is certified or otherwise expressly reported as true, is guilty of filing a false report punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, or in the state prison for one, two, or three years. This section shall not apply to the contents of any statement which the peace officer attributes in the report to any other person.”
Since any violation of this statute is a wobbler, the State of California may charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
The following elements must be proven to prove the existence of an offense under PC 118.1:
- the defendant is a police officer and while acting in his official capacity,
- filed a report in a criminal matter,
- the report included false information about a material matter,
- that the officer knew it to be false when the officer entered the false information in the report.
As mentioned above, a police officer may be found guilty of the crime even if he or she did not sign it under penalty of perjury. PC 118.1 only applies to reports an officer files when acting as a police officer. It does not apply to any reports made in his or her personal capacity. It also only applies to reports made for his or her agency of employment.
It is also important to note that this code section does not apply if a peace officer is not reporting on a crime. Police officers may write reports related to civil or administrative matters, such as motor vehicle accidents and other emergency events related to natural disasters such as fires, bad weather, and earthquakes.
Any false statement to merit a charge under 118.1 must be “material” – meaning it must relate to something of significance or importance, rather than something trivial or incidental. Officers must knowingly enter false information. It may not be the product of negligence or mistake. California recognizes that a person acts knowingly if he or she understands that facts exist which bring his or her actions within the provisions of this code section.
As a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by up to one year in county jail or summary probation. As a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for up to three years or formal probation.
Possible remedies for a violation is the filing of a police misconduct report, a Pitchess motion, which is a request to access the officer’s personnel file and a civil action for damages against the officer under § 1983. A Pitchess motion may be used to determine whether the officer has been the subject of similar complaints in the past.
Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to defend any criminal charge. The advice, guidance, and representation of experienced criminal defense counsel may be crucial to achieving the best possible result in any criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here.