In case you haven’t been following the summer Olympics, there’s been quite a debacle in Rio De Janeiro. This past weekend four US Olympic swimmers attended a lavish Olympic party hosted by French authorities. Ryan Lochte, Jack Conger, Jimmy Freigen, and Gunnar Bentz left the party with a few too many drinks in their system. On the way back to the Olympic Village their taxi made a restroom stop at a gas station.
The men made quite a mess at the gas station. They broke a soap dispenser, damaged the bathroom door, tore down a sign, and urinated just about everywhere except for the urinal. Trying to control the situation, the station security guard brandished a gun. The swimmers then proceeded to give money to the manager to pay for the damages before leaving the premise and returning home.
The next morning Lochte gave a vivid account to police officials and the news media, stating that their taxi had been stopped by armed Rio police officers who forced the athletes to hand over their money at gunpoint. Needless to say, the account struck a very bad chord with Brazilians who don’t appreciate tourists vandalizing private property, lying to officials, and leaving scot-free.
Of course, providing a false account results in more than hurt and angered feelings. Brazilian officials are now suggesting that Lochte be indicted for providing false testimony about a crime, which is a very serious criminal offense. Even if Lochte happens to be your Olympic hero (for whatever reason,) don’t follow in his footsteps in this scenario. Lying to police officials will land you in a bad place, especially in Florida.
Filing a False Report In Florida
For obvious reasons, lying to authorities is one of the few types of speech not protected by the United States Constitution. The definition of what is considered a false police report is contained in Section 817.49 of the Florida Statutes. Under the Florida law, it is considered a criminal offense for a person to willfully and knowingly give false information, or make a false report regarding the occurrence of a crime that the person knows did not actually occur.
False reports of commission of crimes; penalty.—Whoever willfully imparts, conveys or causes to be imparted or conveyed to any law enforcement officer false information or reports concerning the alleged commission of any crime under the laws of this state, knowing such information or report to be false, in that no such crime had actually been committed, shall upon conviction thereof be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s.775.082 or s. 775.083.
PENALTIES FOR A FALSE REPORT
False police reports are classified as a first degree misdemeanor. Such an offense is punishable by up to 1 year in jail, or 1 year on probation with a $1,000 fine. It goes without saying, but that’s if you’re found guilty in trial, which requires a good deal of proof. To prove the offense of a False Report at trial, the prosecution must establish the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
- The accused willfully gave or communicated false information or a false report about the commission of an alleged crime in Florida.
- The accused knew the information or report was false because no such crime had actually been committed.
- The information or report was given or communicated to a law enforcement officer.
- The accused knew or should have known that the person to whom the information or report was given was a member of law enforcement/the police.
DEFENSES TO A FALSE POLICE REPORT
There are a good few defenses available to contest a charge of filing a false police report in Florida.
REPORT NOT PROVABLY FALSE
In investigating an incident, law enforcement may jump to conclusions and take one person’s side over another. In their haste to arrest someone, they may pursue charges against the person they choose not to believe. If there is contrary evidence supporting a defendant’s side of the story, this may put the claim of a false report under contention.
MISTAKEN BELIEF / MISINFORMATION
Even if the report ends up being false, the prosecution must establish that the accused knew that the information contained in the report was false. A powerful defense is available if the accused was simply mistaken, misconstrued the situation, or given misinformation by someone else.
NO KNOWLEDGE OF POLICE
If the information is false, and if the accused knew it was false, the information or report must be given or made to a law enforcement officer, not a bystander or other person. Thus, an additional defense exists where the accused did not know the person was a police officer or did not intend for the information they provided to reach the hands of an officer.
Long Story Short, Don’t Lie
Nonetheless, the best defense to avoid being accused of filing a false report is to always tell the truth. While Lochte may have fabricated a story to cover up his ignorant actions, his lie will now get him into more trouble than the truth ever would have. This recent event from the summer Olympics serves as a lesson for all of us on the dangers that lie in filing a false police report. Also, we’re terribly sorry Rio.