For anything that truly matters in a police encounter, yes, it is illegal to lie to the police in California. It is far better to claim your right to an attorney and stay silent until you can speak with one.
If you’re caught lying to the police, they could charge you with several crimes. It depends on the situation you lied about and the circumstances at the time of the lie. Here’s what you could face if you’re caught lying to the police.
Three Situations Wherein You Should Never Lie
Under California law, there are three surefire ways to get charged with a crime when talking with the police:
- Identifying yourself to an officer, whether verbally or through documentation
- When under oath, whether in a deposition, in the courtroom, or any similar situation
- When reporting a crime or filing a police report
Know that the lie has to be done intentionally for it to fit the crimes we describe below. If you forget or misreport a minor detail or genuinely believe something that’s later disproven, the charge may not stick. Lies can be lies of commission or omission.
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Perjury Is the Worst Kind of Lie
Perjury is when you tell a lie while you’re under oath or when you affirm something to be true, like during a deposition. This is a felony crime in California and you could face up to four years in prison if you’re caught.
In order for a lie to count as perjury, the state must prove certain things. First, you have to know you’re under oath when you tell the lie. Second, you have to intend to lie and try to pass off the lie as the truth. Third, the information must be material to the matter at hand.
This does not have to be verbal. Many government documents have a section that requires you to affirm that all the information is accurate. If you deliberately lie on a form, say a driver’s license application, you could be charged with perjury.
Filing a False Police Report
In California, filing a false police report is a misdemeanor. In addition to the normal sentence, you could be held liable for the costs of any law enforcement action taken because of the false report. The act of swatting is an example.
Swatting is when a false report is made about a serious crime at an innocent’s location, usually with the goal of getting a police SWAT team to respond. Not only is this response expensive, but it’s extremely dangerous for the innocent victim. It’s possible they could get assaulted or even killed before the police realize the report was falsified.
Another example happens in divorce and separation situations. One spouse may call the police and lie to them to make themselves look better in the eyes of family court. Naturally, if the lying spouse is caught, it will be far worse for them.
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Providing False Identifying Information
If you get pulled over for a traffic stop and you provide false information about you or your vehicle, that’s another misdemeanor crime. In theory, this crime would apply to all cops on the beat because they all can enforce traffic laws when they’re out and about.
Even if you wish to invoke your right to remain silent, you still must identify yourself and give over identification information by law. This lets the police know they have the right person for questioning.
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You Should Never Lie to the Police
Depending on the circumstances, there are other crimes you could be charged with for lying to a cop. These include obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, accessory to a crime, and others. The simple fact is that it’s never a good idea to lie to a cop for any reason.
If you are caught, the courts have a wide range of charges they could try to pin on you. It won’t matter if you thought it was a good reason. They won’t take your excuses. Identify yourself, claim your right to a lawyer, and then remain silent until you can speak with a criminal defense attorney.