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False Bomb Threat - California Penal Code PC 148.1

Posted by Raoul Severo | Nov 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Some people think it's okay to joke about life-threatening scenarios such as a bomb going off in a heavily crowded space. However, not only is it extremely inappropriate, but it's also illegal. Making false bomb threats have major consequences regardless if it's just for fun or born out of ill-intent. People will panic, a stampede may happen, special forces will be called, resources will be used, and time will be wasted. 

In the state of California, bomb threats are taken very seriously. Hence, anyone who wilfully reports a bomb threat, knowing that it is false, will be punished under California Penal Code PC 148.1. More specifically, the law states that a person is guilty of committing such a crime if:

  • The individual falsely reported that a bomb has been placed or will be placed in a public or private place;
  • The individual knew that the threat was false;
  • The false threat was delivered or disseminated either verbally or written text, using electronic (i.e., television, radio) or non-electronic (i.e., newspaper, letter, mail) mediums; and
  • The false threat was received by government officials/employees, television or radio stations, transport workers, news anchors, building occupants, or other individuals.

Keep in mind, however, that false bomb reports are not the same as incorrect bomb reports. For instance, a suspiciously large bag has been left unattended in the middle of the school corridor. The school janitor then immediately calls the police, thinking that whatever is inside the bag is dangerous. Upon investigating, however, the bag does not contain an explosive device. Even though the results of the inspection proved that the school janitor was wrong, he still cannot be charged for reporting a false bomb threat since he reasonably believed that there might have been a bomb inside the bag. 

Examples

California Penal Code PC 148.1 has set specific standards when it comes to varying situations, such as when the threat is reported to a police officer, a law enforcement agency, or a civilian. With that said, we have provided examples to demonstrate possible acts that may be prosecuted under this law:

  • An extremist sends an email to a large television network stating that several bombs have been placed all over the city. He then mentions that if the government does not give him $10 million by the end of the night, he will detonate all of the devices. The city has been put on high alert, but by the next day, no explosions occurred.
  • A group of rowdy teenagers decided that for April Fools, they would be pranking their entire campus by sending text messages detailing that a bomb has been planted inside their school. 
  • Your long-term girlfriend decided to break up with you due to personal reasons. Frustrated and upset, you then decide to blackmail her by saying that if she does not get back with you this week, you'll be throwing a grenade at her parent's house.
  • The police department is conducting a raid in one of the most infamous drug den in the locality. The drug lord, who refuses to comply with the officers' orders, has an object in his hand which he claims to be an explosive device. He threatens to throw it to the police if they won't leave the premises. The officers manage to tackle the suspect and safely dispose of the object, which is actually just a rock.

Related Offenses

There are similar crimes with which a person can be charged for making false bomb threats. These are:

  • Terrorist threats (California Penal Code PC 422);
  • False emergency report (California Penal Code PC 148.3);
  • False crime report (California Penal Code PC 148.5);
  • Witness/victim threats (California Penal Code PC 139); and
  • Give police false information (California Penal Code PC 148.9)

Penalties for False Bomb Threats

Violating California Penal Code PC 148.1 is a “wobbler” offense; meaning, the offense may be either be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. The punishments for both classifications are:

  • For a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 1 year in county jail
  • For a felony, it is punishable by 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail.

Keep in mind that additional penalties may be added on top of the aforementioned punishments if you are convicted of committing more than one crime.

Legal Defenses

Reporting false bomb threats is a crime at both the state and federal level. With that said, it is significantly harder to challenge as opposed to simple traffic citations. Together with your criminal defense lawyer, you may discuss the following defenses to be used in your case:

  • It was a mistake of fact;
  • The defendant was severely intoxicated;
  • The defendant was coerced and threatened to make the report; or
  • Lack of evidence.

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