Swatting is a form of harassment that involves making false reports of serious crimes to emergency services with the intention of instigating a response by heavily armed forces.

In California, swatting is usually treated a misdemeanor offense, which carries in fines and jail time, and it is often charged alongside other offenses depending on the facts of the case.

If you or someone you know has been accused of swatting, making a false report of an emergency, or misusing 911 with the intent to harass, it is important that you seek the counsel of a criminal defense attorney.

What is swatting?

Swatting is a term used to describe the act of calling emergency services, such as 911, and providing a false report of a serious crime in order to get emergency services to send a heavily armed force, such as a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to respond to the reported emergency. Swatting is a form of harassment that can have very dangerous consequences as well as legal penalties. 

Reports made by swatters usually include major crimes or events like murders, hostage situations, or bomb threats, which will likely result in a serious response from emergency services. Swatting not only places the first responders in danger but places the victims in danger as well, as they are being targeted by SWAT teams or other armed forces.

Officers entering homes or other structures with the belief that they may be met by a dangerous perpetrator can result in injury or death for the officers and the person or people being innocently targeted by the SWAT team. Swatting has resulted in several recorded deaths and is thus taken quite seriously by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. 

False report of an emergency – California Penal Code 148.3 PC

In California, swatting falls under Penal Code 148.3 PC which makes it a crime to falsely report any condition that triggers:

  • The evacuation of an area,
  • The response of an emergency vehicle, or
  • An AMBER Alert

In addition to swatting, violations of Penal Code 148.3 PC could include any false report of an emergency such as:

  • Screaming out that you are being attacked when you are not, or
  • Making a report of domestic violence to seek revenge against a spouse

Penalties for swatting

Under Penal Code 148.3 PC, swatting is a misdemeanor charge that is punishable by:

  • Up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000

Misusing 911 with the intent to harass – California Penal Code 653x PC

According to California Penal Code 653x PC it is illegal to contact 911 with the intent to harass or annoy another person. The elements of the crime that the prosecutor must prove in order to convict a person of swatting are:

  • The defendant made repeated calls or communications to 911
  • The communications were made under a period of time
  • The communication made were unreasonable under the circumstances

The length of the calls made to 911 is not relevant to the guilt of the defendant. For example, a person who repeatedly call 911 with brief prank calls would be guilty of violating Penal Code 653x PC. 

Penal Code 653x PC is different from swatting in that repeated calls are made to 911 with the intent to harass (typically to harass the 911 operator or emergency services), whereas swatting involves making a false report of a serious crime with the intent to harass another person by instigating a deployment of a SWAT team or other law enforcement. 

Misusing 911 with the intent to harass or annoy someone – Penal Code 653x PC – is a misdemeanor charge. Penalties for violating Penal Code 653x PC include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000

The most common legal defenses against swatting charges involve showing that the defendant was acting in good faith. When a person calls 911 in good faith, it is because they honestly believe that there is an emergency worth reporting. This defense is commonly referred to as “mistake of fact.” Other common defenses against swatting charges include:

  • Showing that the defendant was reporting an actual emergency, or
  • Proving that there was no report of an emergency made by the defendant

If you’ve been charged with swatting or a related crime, your attorney can help you to determine the most effective defense strategy to use in your case. In order to avoid potential fines or jail time, it is important that you seek the help of a qualified California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney who has been representing clients in and around Los Angeles for over 30 years. His extensive knowledge of the legal and criminal justice systems as well as his tireless dedication to his clients has earned him a rating as one of Ventura’s top criminal defense attorneys. Whether you need immediate legal help or the advice of a skilled attorney on your case, we are ready to assist you. Call us today at 805-275-5611.