You have just gotten home from a long, difficult day at work. You are at a point where you can relax and truly consider yourself done for the day, and now it is time to have some fun. You fire up your Xbox and start playing “Grand Theft Auto V,” the open world game where you can commit just about any act of violence or criminal mischief you have ever imagined doing if there were no real-life consequences. Steal a car? No problem. Rob a liquor store? Have at it. Murder other players and steal the money they drop? No one will stop you.
You find yourself dominating other players in deathmatches and capture missions. As the police chase you all over the fictional city of Los Santos, the sirens blaring on your TV drown out the sounds of those coming from the real police cars headed down the street to your house. Without warning, police dressed in full body armor and armed to the teeth burst into your house and order you to place your hands behind your head and lie face down on your floor.
You have just been “swatted.”
What is “Swatting?”
“Swatting” is where, either as a practical joke or as revenge, a person or group will gather up personal information on you and send police to your home or business, claiming that a heinous crime has been committed. Usually, the prank will involve a dire and urgent situation, such as a hostage taking or a murder. The goal is to make the report so dire and urgent that police will send a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.
The result is that the victim finds him or herself staring down the barrel of a police officer’s assault weapon. In many cases, the victims have been people who play games while streaming their gaming to an audience on Internet sites such as Twitch or Periscope. In other cases, victims have been celebrities, such as singer/actress Miley Cyrus and rapper Lil Wayne.
Swatting is becoming increasingly common, and the result has been a significant waste of taxpayer money and deprivation of emergency services to the community. Last year, a 17-year-old on Long Island was swatted as a result of angering someone while playing Call of Duty. The incident cost taxpayers $100,000 in pay to police and emergency personnel, and caused the county to send over a third of its emergency responders to the hoax. No arrest has been made yet as the caller has not been identified.1
In March of this year, a group of gamers found their New Jersey game store gathering interrupted by a swatting hoax. Unlike other such pranks, this time the person who called in the report to the police also tried to engineer a confrontation between the victims and police by posing as a city fire official and giving the people in the store false instructions over the phone.
Miraculously, reports of injuries resulting from swatting incidents have been sparse. According to Kevin Kolbye, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas Division, one police officer suffered injuries in a car accident while responding to a swatting prank. In other cases, victims have suffered mild heart attacks or other emotional distress-related injuries.2
Falsely Reporting an Emergency (California Penal Code Section 148.3)
Though there is no law in California that specifically outlaws swatting, California Penal Code Section 148.3 makes it a crime to report an emergency (or, causing someone else to file the report) knowing that the report is false. The law defines “emergency” as:
- Any condition that results in, or could result in, the response of a public official in an authorized emergency vehicle, aircraft, or vessel;
- Any condition that jeopardizes or could jeopardize public safety and results in, or could result in, the evacuation of any area, building, structure, vehicle, or of any other place that any individual may enter; or
- Any situation that results in or could result in activation of the Emergency Alert System.3
Violating this law is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, and/or a maximum of 364 days in county jail. Additionally, if you are aware or should be aware that the response to the report may cause death or serious bodily harm, and someone is harmed or killed during the response to the false report, the crime becomes a felony. Felony falsely reporting a crime is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to three years in county jail.
As a result of swatting incidents gaining notoriety, California lawmakers amended PC section 148.3 to make a convicted defendant liable for the costs of the response to the emergency.
False Report of a Criminal Offense (California Penal Code Section 148.5)
If you are accused of swatting, you could also face charges under California Penal Code Section 148.5. This law makes it a crime to falsely accuse any person of committing a criminal offense. In order to be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove that you:
- You made a false statement to a police officer;
- You knew that the statement was false at the time you made the statement; and
- Your knowingly false statement included an accusation that another person committed a felony or misdemeanor.
Lying to police by falsely reporting a crime is a misdemeanor offense. If you are convicted of this crime, you face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Are There Any Federal Anti-Swatting Laws?
As of this writing, there are not yet any federal laws that specifically prohibit swatting. However, there have been cases where other federal charges have been filed. For example, Jason Allen Neff plead guilty in 2014 to federal counts of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to access protected telecommunications computers without authorization, and obstruction by retaliating against a victim. In essence, Neff and his cohorts illegally accessed protected personal information by using means of interstate commerce (telephone and cable lines), and then used the information to send the police to the victim’s home. Neff is now serving a five-year sentence in federal prison.4
Contact the Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich If You Are Accused of Swatting
If you find yourself wrongfully accused of calling in a false police report, you will need an experienced and skilled attorney to help you defeat the charges. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully helping clients facing criminal charges for over 30 years. We are dedicated to working tirelessly on our clients’ behalf to provide them with the best defense possible. Let us help you now.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina, and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal attorney available near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free, no obligation phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
2. [“The Crime of ‘Swatting’: Fake 9-1-1 Calls Have Real Consequences,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 3, 2013, available at http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/september/the-crime-of-swatting-fake-9-1-1-calls-have-real-consequences/the-crime-of-swatting-fake-9-1-1-calls-have-real-consequences.]↩
3. [Cal. Pen. Code §148.3.]↩
4. [“Man Faces Five Years in Federal Prison in ‘Swatting’ Case,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, July 29, 2014, available at http://www.fbi.gov/dallas/press-releases/2014/man-faces-five-years-in-federal-prison-in-swatting-case.]↩