Swatting is the act of making a false emergency call to trigger law enforcement, particularly a SWAT team, to an unsuspecting person or location.

Though the premise may appear simple, the legal repercussions of making swatting calls can be quite complicated. The penalties for swatting can vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the consequences of your actions, but they can include steep fines and jail time.

If you, a family member or someone you know has been implicated in a swatting case, it’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney, who can review the specific details of your case and advise you on the best course of action. Don’t hesitate to contact attorney Robert M. Helfend at 800-834-6434 for a comprehensive review of your case.

What is swatting?

Swatting is defined as the act of making a deceptive emergency call to instigate a significant response — typically involving a SWAT team — to a location where no actual emergency exists. The caller often fabricates an urgent, high-risk situation, such as a hostage-taking event, a bomb threat or a violent crime in progress, with the intention of manipulating the emergency services system.

The term ‘swatting’ is derived from the acronym SWAT, standing for Special Weapons And Tactics. SWAT teams within U.S. law enforcement agencies are specialized units equipped to handle volatile and high-risk situations, such as those typically fabricated in swatting incidents.

Examples of swatting

Across the United States, there have been numerous recorded instances of swatting, impacting both public figures and private individuals alike. High-profile celebrities have been the target of swatting events, resulting in substantial law enforcement responses to their residences based on entirely false information.

In other cases, online disagreements, particularly within the gaming community, have escalated into real-world swatting incidents. Here, disputes that begin in the digital realm can result in false emergency calls leading to significant, unwarranted police responses.

How California law handles swatting cases

There is no specific “anti-Swatting” law in California. As a result, swatting cases can be charged under a number of different statutes. Below, we’ll outline three of the most common statutes used to charge defendants in swatting cases.

Calling 911 to Harass – California Penal Code § 653x PC

In the state of California, the act of swatting is addressed under multiple statutes. A significant one among these is the California Penal Code § 653x PC, colloquially referred to as ‘Calling 911 to Harass.’ This law designates the misuse of the 911 system for non-emergency purposes as a misdemeanor.

To obtain a conviction under PC 653x, the prosecution needs to prove all of the following elements:

  1. The defendant knowingly used or permitted someone else to use the 911 system for reasons other than reporting emergencies or obtaining emergency aid.
  2. The defendant’s action lacked good faith.
  3. The defendant intended to annoy or harass another party through the misuse of the 911 system.

Penalties if you are found to have used 911 to harass someone

California law stipulates that a conviction under PC 653x can lead to varying degrees of penalties. These penalties largely depend on factors such as the defendant’s prior criminal history, the exact circumstances of the swatting incident, and the consequences resulting from the incident.

A conviction for this misdemeanor can lead to a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in county jail, or both. Additionally, if the false report resulted in injury or death, the perpetrator might face steeper charges and penalties under different sections of California law.

False Report of an Emergency – California Penal Code § 148.3 PC

California Penal Code 148.3 PC, often referred to as the ‘False Report of an Emergency’ statute, addresses another facet of swatting. Under this law, it is illegal to falsely report an emergency to any state, county, city, town, or district emergency service. This includes police departments, fire departments, or any public or private emergency medical services.

To secure a conviction under PC 148.3, the prosecution must prove:

  1. The defendant reported or caused a report to be made to an emergency service that an emergency existed.
  2. The defendant knew that the report was false when they made it.
  3. The defendant made the report with the intent to annoy or harass, or with reckless disregard for the possibility of causing fear, evacuation, or the unnecessary dispatch of emergency vehicles.

Penalties for False Report of an Emergency

Violating California Penal Code 148.3 PC is a misdemeanor. This violation can result in penalties that include up to one year in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. However, if the false report results in someone’s injury or death, the penalties may escalate under different sections of the law, potentially leading to a felony charge. The perpetrator might also be liable for civil damages.

Making a False Report of a Crime – California Penal Code § 148.5 PC

Another relevant statute, California Penal Code 148.5 PC, makes it a misdemeanor to report a false crime to any peace officer, district attorney, or deputy district attorney, or to any employee designated to accept such reports on behalf of a state or local law enforcement agency.

To gain a conviction under PC 148.5, the prosecution needs to establish that:

  1. The defendant falsely reported a felony or misdemeanor to a peace officer, prosecutor, grand jury, or a state or local employee assigned to accept crime reports.
  2. The defendant knew the report was false when they made it.

Penalties for False Report of a Crime

Violating California Penal Code 148.5 PC is considered a misdemeanor. Like the other misdemeanors, it can result in penalties, including a maximum of six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If a series of false reports are made, each false report can be charged as a separate crime, leading to accumulated penalties.

Defenses against swatting charges

Typical swatting defenses involve questioning the authenticity of the evidence that you made the call, asserting that the call was made in good faith or contending that there was no intention to harass or annoy anyone. Each case has unique elements that may open up other avenues for defense as well.

A seasoned attorney, such as Robert M. Helfend, can help parse through the specifics of the case, the wording of the law and the actions of law enforcement to build a robust defense strategy. This could involve challenging the evidence’s validity, disputing that the defendant made the call or questioning the prosecution’s interpretation of “intent to annoy or harass.” In some cases, a successful defense could lead to charges being significantly reduced or even dismissed.

Remember, a charge is not a conviction, and everyone is entitled to a robust defense. An experienced attorney is vital in ensuring that your rights are upheld throughout the legal process and can help ensure the best possible outcome.

To seek advice about a situation involving swatting, call us 24/7 at 800-834-6434 to schedule a free case review.