Bill Description: House Bill 474 would criminalize intentionally and willfully filing a false damage claim related to pesticide use.
Does it directly or indirectly create or increase penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for nonviolent crimes? Conversely, does it eliminate or decrease penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for non-violent crimes?
Section 22-3417, Idaho Code, allows "any individual suffering loss or damage resulting from the use or application by others of any pesticide" to file a written report with the Idaho Department of Agriculture. This section says, "The filing of such report or the failure to file such a report need not be alleged in any complaint which might be filed in a court of law, and the failure to file the report shall not be considered a bar to the maintenance of any criminal or civil action."
These reports may assist anyone seeking restitution for damages, but they are primarily designed to be informational. The statute says "the department may investigate and determine the nature and extent of the alleged damage." The use of the word "may" means the department is not obligated to perform an investigation in response to a report.
House Bill 474 would create Section 22-3417B, Idaho Code, to say, "Any person who intentionally and willfully makes a damage claim to a law enforcement agency or the Idaho state department of agriculture knowing such report to be false shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."
This misdemeanor would carry a penalty of "imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six (6) months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both."
Making a false claim to a law enforcement agency is already criminalized under Section 18-5413, Idaho Code, which says, "A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if he knowingly gives or causes to be given false information to any law enforcement officer … concerning the commission of an offense, knowing that the offense did not occur or knowing that he has no information relating to the offense or danger."
This means the new Section 22-3417B, Idaho Code, would primarily target making a "false" damage report to the Idaho Department of Agriculture, which already has discretion in determining which reports it investigates.
While it is possible that someone could file a bogus report as a nuisance or prank, such mischief should be discernible to the department (particularly in the case of a serial miscreant). Criminally prosecuting the person who filed the report would only prolong the matter and increase costs for taxpayers.
More broadly, these reports are designed to be informational, not legal claims, and thus they may be filed in an informal way to discuss alleged damages that have not yet been established through investigation.
Imposing criminal penalties for false claims could have a chilling effect on this process and could discourage some people from reporting suspected damage due to fear of criminal prosecution.
There are times when false reports can be used as a form of harassment. Laws designed to address these instances should not, however, be so overbroad that they intimidate or silence those who simply seek to convey information.
STAY CONNECTED with the latest news, research and opinions from the Gem State.