Filing a False Police Report
Filing a false police report in Massachusetts is a serious crime that is punishable by up to one year in jail. In order to convict a defendant of filing a false police report, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant reported a crime (or caused a report to be made) to a police officer;
- The report was false;
- The false report was intentional (and not caused by the defendant’s negligence or accident); and
- The defendant knew when he was making the report (or causing the report to be made) that the information was false.
- This statute obviously covers the scenario where a defendant completely made up a crime that never happened. It also covers the scenario where a crime was actually committed and the defendant purposefully misidentified the perpetrator.
- The falsity has to be material – that is, it needs to be a substantially inaccurate piece of information related to the crime. Falsely reporting a minor detail is likely insufficient to sustain a conviction under this statute.
- It is not necessary for the defendant to seek out the police in order to convey the false information. If a police officer approaches a defendant and asks questions about a crime, the defendant can be convicted of filing a false police report if he provides false information (even if he never would have provided the information at all had the officer not approached him).
- This statute is related to the witness intimidation statute, which prohibits any person from misleading a police officer with the intent to impede an investigation. Witness intimidation is a felony (whereas filing a false police report is a misdemeanor) and carries much harsher punishment.
- Criminal defendants constantly wonder whether, if they are found not guilty at trial, the person who accused them of a crime will be prosecuted for filing a false police report. It almost never happens. Prosecutors hate charging alleged victims (even those who lie) with crimes. Attorney Spring has been involved in only one case where the alleged victim was later charged with filing a false police report, and it was only because video from a security camera proved beyond any doubt that she completely fabricated the alleged crime.
- The defendant made a good faith mistake in his report to the police and did not intentionally lie. Anybody who has ever witnessed a crime knows it’s often a chaotic scene and it’s sometimes difficult to accurately report what happened. The Commonwealth bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally lied when he was providing information to the cops.
- The inaccurate information provided to police officers constituted minor details and not facts that were material to the case. A defendant who reports a perpetrator was wearing a red shirt when it was really orange, for example, is likely not going to be prosecuted.
It is almost never a good idea to talk to the police (even as a witness) without first consulting with a criminal defense attorney.