Falsely Reporting an Incident in New York
Read about falsely reporting an incident in the first, second, and third degree, and disseminating a false registered sex offender notice in New York and how to successfully defend yourself against these charges.
What is the technical term for this legal violation?
The technical term for this legal violation is “falsely reporting an incident.”
What are the Penalties for False Reporting an Incident?
Charges for falsely reporting an incident may be brought in the first, second and third-degree. There is also a statute for disseminating a false registered sex offender notice. Below, we will discuss each of these statutes and the penalties that accompany them. When arrested on these charges, grasping the legal terminology and accompanying penalties is part of formulating a viable defense.
Falsely reporting an incident in the third degree is also a Class A misdemeanor and carries the same penalties listed above if there is a conviction. This violation happens if a person gives false information that a crime, emergency or catastrophe is in progress, pending or has already occurred, and doing so creates a likelihood that the public will be alarmed or inconvenienced.
This applies if the information is a basic warning issued without contacting the authorities; it is done by contacting a quasi-official agency or organization that deals with these situations; or law enforcement. It will also be a third-degree offense if there is a report that a child is being abused or a vulnerable person is being abused or neglected.
A false report in the second-degree reaches the level of felony in New York and has commensurately harsher penalties if there is a conviction. The tenets of contacting law enforcement, emergency services or quasi-officials are the same in the second-degree offense as they are in the third-degree offense. However, this goes beyond calling about a crime, emergency or catastrophe.
It will be a second-degree offense if the report is of a fire, explosion or a hazardous substance being released. This is a Class E violent felony and can result in probation for between 1.5 and four years. Subsequent offenses will result in harsher penalties.
A false report in the first degree is a Class D violent felony and falls into the category of subsequent offenses from a second and third-degree violation.
If the report is made, and it is a second or third-degree offense, and another person is injured or killed in an auto accident with an emergency vehicle that is in the process of heading to the scene, is already there or is returning from the scene, it will be a first-degree offense for the individual who called and made the false report.
The reporting of fire, explosive device or hazardous substance at a stadium, a mass transportation hub, a shopping mall or any other public location where it is likely to be people present will be a first-degree offense. With a Class D violent felony, there can be two-to-seven years in jail.
Disseminating a False Registered Sex Offender Notice
Disseminating a false registered sex offender notice is a Class A misdemeanor. Since people who are classified as sex offenders are looked upon negatively in the community, the belief that a person has committed the crimes that warrant registering as a sex offender can be damaging. With this law, a person will be guilty if he or she provided information that is false or baseless.
It is also a violation if the information stems from disseminating what appears to be an official notice from law enforcement or a government entity and it states a person is a registered sex offender. The penalties for a conviction on a Class A misdemeanor can include up to one year in jail or three years’ probation. There can also be a fine of up to $1,000.
What is the common question that is asked in these cases?
A common question that is asked in these cases is why a person would do this. The answer can be a key aspect of defense. The “why” will not be needed if there is a lack of evidence and the defense strategy is clear.
In other cases, while a qualified defense attorney can create reasonable doubt and gain an acquittal, there will be records of where the call came from, a voice recording of the call itself, or a hard copy of the statements involved in the report. In many cases, a person could have made the false report as part of a series of other incidents and got him or herself into a spiraling series of occurrences from which there was no escape.
It could have been a simple protective device to explain away being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it grew into something over which they no longer had control. “I did not want to get into trouble” for doing one thing a person – especially a young adult – should not have been doing could lead to the mistake of making a false report as a protective shield. While not an excuse for violating the law, this can factor in with the defense.
What is a Hate Crime Allegation?
In the current toxic political environment, a false report that is growing more common is a hate crime allegation that ends up being a hoax.
Here are some cases:
- One young woman stated that she had been assaulted on the New York City subway because she is a Muslim. Not long after, the law enforcement investigation discovered that it did not happen and she had concocted the story, evidently because she had been drinking alcohol with friends. She was charged with the misdemeanor of reporting a false incident.
Researchers and law enforcement who have examined this phenomenon say that a vast proportion of people who are accused of doing this are seeking sympathy and want attention. Some might try to distract from other problems they are having in their personal and professional lives. Regardless of the underlying reason, a legal defense against the charges is imperative.
- In another case, a man was arrested for reporting that a bag he had lost at Grand Central Terminal contained a bomb. He allegedly did this to enlist law enforcement’s help in finding it. It did not have a bomb and the man, 44, was arrested. First, after losing the bag, he went to a police officer for assistance.
After the officer told him to go to the information booth, he yelled about a bomb in his bag. Officers rapidly discerned that the man was lying. The terminal was not evacuated. He was charged with making a false report. The charges could have been substantially worse as he was nearly charged with making terroristic threats. Still, he faces felony charges for the false report.
- Another example occurred at a New York hospital and showed how a false report could simply be an honest mistake and people who make the call are deciding that it is better to be safe than sorry. Two patients stated they saw an armed person at the facility. A major law enforcement response followed.
The building was subject to an extensive search, and no armed person was found, nor was their video evidence via security cameras of one being present. The police chief himself said he did not believe that the report was done for any reason other than the belief that there was really a person with a gun in the hospital.
- A prior incident at another hospital in which a doctor used a gun to kill one and injure six in 2017 sparked law enforcement not to take any chances and respond forcefully. Fortunately, like in the terminal, it turned out to be nothing.
However, charges could have been filed had law enforcement chosen to do so and prosecutors believed there was a reasonable chance at getting a conviction. They were not filed in this case, but if they were, there is a potential defense in people truly thinking there was a threat.
Is it possible that the person who was charged is innocent?
Of course, it is possible that the person who was charged did not do what he or she was accused of. An alibi such as verifiably being in a separate location while another person used the accused’s phone or social media account to make the false report, and can serve to get an acquittal or have the charges dropped entirely.
What are some of the additional consequences of being convicted?
The jail time and fines are problematic by itself, but the aftermath can also cause negative implications in a person’s life. These charges are not something a person wants on his or her record as it can significantly hinder their future. For those who have been arrested on any of these charges, the defense is critical to try and avoid a conviction and the worst penalties. Obviously, no one should file a false report.
Recently, there has been significant attention paid to the filing of false police reports with the actor Jussie Smollett facing charges in Chicago because of it. While that might have seemed to be an extreme case of an actor and moderately well-known celebrity making a drastic mistake for unknown reasons amid a public outcry, it is not uncommon. With Mr. Smollett, the charges were dropped.
People who are not as well-known and are not part of a major news blitz will rarely face the same scrutiny for their case, but it remains important to have legal help to combat the charges.
What is the aspect of a successful defense?
In a perfect world, it would never happen. That said, there are various reasons why it could have occurred, and this can be a foundational aspect of a successful defense. Perhaps a person made a mistake and took part in an ill-advised prank. There could have been a call for emergency assistance when there was a perceived threat, and it did not actually exist.
It is possible that a person did not understand that it was illegal to call for emergency assistance when it was not needed. Or there could be an issue with mental illness, addiction or other personal problems that serve as an explanation for calling for emergency help when it was not required.
- The previously-mentioned incident with Mr. Smollett might seem to be an outlier. However, the filing of false reports is a common issue. These are treated with great seriousness not just for the act itself, but because of the possibility of wasted resources investigating an incident that did not happen; that the first responders, law enforcement and innocent bystanders can be placed in jeopardy because of it; and that there is a domino effect in which the investigation that is taking place because of a false report could take time away from a legitimate emergency or incident and cause damage in that way.
When facing charges of making a false police report, it is vital to consider the possible implications if there is a conviction. Often, a person is unaware of the reality of those penalties. For people who have no prior record and simply made a mistake, there could be alternatives to achieve a reduced charge or a dismissal.
The individual’s situation will factor heavily in whether there is an aggressive prosecution. If there was no long-term damage and there is no previous record of this or any other criminal acts, a negotiation can achieve a satisfactory result. Perhaps the evidence of the crime is not sufficient for the prosecutor to get a conviction and there will be an acquittal. This is what happened in Mr. Smollett’s case and, despite his status as a celebrity and the intense media scrutiny, there will be no prosecution in criminal court.
Why should you call us for help?
Before admitting to wrongdoing or accepting the consequences detailed in an offer by the prosecutor, having a legal representative with experience in all areas of criminal defense is essential. This is a wise step even in cases where there is no jail time.
After an arrest, before making a statement or decision the person will regret and making an unfortunate alleged incident worse, calling for a consultation to prepare for that defense can yield a positive outcome. With any criminal charges, having a strong legal defense is a must.
Sources for Falsely Reporting Incident In New York blog post
- ypdcrime.com New York State Felony Classes and Sentences
- ypdcrime.com 240.48 Disseminating a false registered sex offender notice
- ypdcrime.com 240.50 Falsely reporting an incident in the third degree
- ypdcrime.com 240.55 Falsely reporting an incident in the second degree
- ypdcrime.com 240.60 Falsely reporting an incident in the first degree
- New York Times, “Hate Crime Hoaxes Are Rare but Can Be ‘Devastating,’” Audra D.S. Burch, Feb. 22, 2019
- New York Daily News, “Grand Central bomb claim a hoax; Queens man charged with falsely reporting an incident,” Rocco Parascandola, Shayna Jacobs and John Annese
- Fox News, “False alarm prompts massive police presence at NY hospital” Mar. 11, 2019