Punishments for Pulling False Fire Alarms

Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2016

Pulling a false fire alarm at school may seem like a funny prank, but in California, it’s against the law. Fire departments around the United States responded to about 2,238,000 false fire alarms in 2012. That’s more than two million times that fire departments responded to false alarms when there may have been real emergencies. Lawmakers have created a number of initiatives to eliminate false alarms for the safety of citizens – including California Penal Code 148.4.

What Does California Law Say?

California Penal Code 148.4 makes false fire alarms against the law. It also prohibits the destruction of fire safety equipment, such as fire alarms and extinguishers. According to this law, anyone who makes a false report of a fire, sets off a false fire alarm, or tampers with fire protection equipment is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony.
The California courts will only find you guilty of this crime if you commit these acts “willfully and maliciously.” If you pull a firm alarm in good faith that there is a fire, you will not face penalties – even if you are mistaken. Setting off an alarm by accident is also not a crime. Only if the prosecutor can prove that a person acted recklessly and knew his/her fire alarm was false will the courts find the person guilty. If convicted of this crime, the guilty party will face certain penalties for breaking the state Penal Code.

Legal Penalties for False Fire Alarms

The penalties for false fire alarms vary depending on the circumstances of the incident. The courts will either deem the crime a misdemeanor or a felony. Triggering a false fire alarm or destroying/tampering with fire equipment is typically a misdemeanor, unless someone suffered death or great bodily injury. Conviction of a misdemeanor for false alarm is punishable by up to one year in county jail, fines of up to $1,000, or both.
If someone suffers extensive bodily injury or dies because of a false alarm, the crime becomes a felony. For example, if the people in a crowded theater stampede toward an exit, trampling and killing an elderly person in the process, the courts would convict the guilty party of a felony. The penalty for committing this felony in CA is up to three years in California State Prison. As a convicted felon in California, you face long-lasting repercussions. Gainful employment may be more difficult to come by, and you could lose certain civil rights and privileges. Misdemeanors and felonies will remain on your record until expungement, if applicable.
Prosecutors may also charge the suspect with Penal Code 148.3, which outlines the false report of an emergency. Falsely crying “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater is grounds for this charge. False reports of fires or any emergency qualify as a crime under this Code. Any individual who reports an emergency knowing that the report is false is guilty of a misdemeanor. This Code defines an “emergency” as any condition that triggers the response of an emergency vehicle, the evacuation of an area, or an Amber Alert. Violations of Penal Code 148.3 result in the same penalties as Panel Code 148.4.

What to Do If You’ve Been Charged With Raising a False Alarm

If the local police have charged you with making a false report of fire, you aren’t alone. The police make this charge hundreds of times per year. If you pulled an alarm or cried “Fire!” in good faith, you have a solid case in your defense. The police may have charged you when someone else actually pulled the alarm. Always consult an attorney if you’re facing charges for breaking Penal Codes 148.4 or 148.3. A capable lawyer can help build a case in your defense and potentially avoid conviction.

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