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Senate Bill 1413 — False reports, violence (-1)

Senate Bill 1413 — False reports, violence (-1)

Parrish Miller
March 11, 2024

Bill Description: Senate Bill 1413 would broadly define and criminalize acts to falsely report violence or an emergency. 

Rating: -1

NOTE: Senate Bill 1413 is related to Senate Bill 1343, introduced earlier this session.

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?

Senate Bill 1343 would create Section 18-3313A, Idaho Code, to address "swatting," which the bill defines in its intent language as "the act of maliciously or recklessly submitting false reports in order to send an armed law enforcement response to private or public places." Such an act, it says, "presents a grave danger to the health and safety of both citizens and law enforcement in this state."

Unfortunately, several elements of this definition are missing from the code this bill would create. There is no requirement that a false report be submitted "maliciously or recklessly" nor is there any requirement that the false report be intended "to send an armed law enforcement response" anywhere. Instead, the bill broadly defines and criminalizes a variety of actions that could theoretically result in swatting. 

The bill says, "Any person who reports, or causes any report to be made, to any police officer, sheriff, employee of a police department or sheriff's office, employee of a 911 communications system or emergency vehicle dispatch center, employee of a fire department or fire service, prosecuting attorney, newspaper, radio station, television station, deputy sheriff, deputy prosecuting attorney, member of the state police, employee of an airline, employee of an airport, employee of a railroad or bus line, employee of a telephone company, occupants of a building, employee of a school district, or news reporter in the employ of a newspaper or radio or television station that an emergency exists in a public or private place, knowing that the report is false, is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment up to one (1) year or a fine of no more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both."

If a violation of these prohibitions results in damages in excess of $1,000 or someone suffers "great bodily harm, permanent disfigurement, or permanent disability," the crime becomes a felony with a mandatory minimum period of "imprisonment for no less than one (1) year and no more than twenty (20) years" and a fine of up to $25,000. 

If a violation of this law results in "the death of any person," the penalty is a mandatory minimum period of "imprisonment of ten (10) years and up to life" and a fine of "no less than" $25,000. 

Intentionally soliciting a SWAT raid is a serious offense that could have deadly consequences, but there are innumerable possible motives for telling a lie in one of the many ways criminalized by this law. This law does not narrowly criminalize swatting; it broadly criminalizes telling lies that could result — even unintentionally — in an unnecessary emergency response. 

The bill does not define "emergency," yet it criminalizes falsely reporting one — not just to law enforcement, but to a host of private entities and businesses, and even to "occupants of a building" (which could include almost anyone.) This language goes well beyond the popular concept of "swatting" and could easily include a simple prank such as unnecessarily triggering a fire alarm.

The mandatory minimum sentences imposed by this bill are especially problematic because someone could be charged with a felony, carrying a minimum of a year in prison, for carrying out a prank that resulted in more than $1,000 in damages. 

If a false report (such as unnecessarily triggering a fire alarm) led to a response by the fire department that damaged a commercial door, the damages could easily exceed this threshold. This proposed law could require the person who filed the false report to make restitution. Instead, it would require taxpayers to bear the cost of imprisoning this person.

Requiring restitution is the appropriate way to handle false reports that result in harm to another person or their property. Imposing mandatory minimum penalties — especially incarceration — removes the opportunity for judicial discretion and the imposition of more appropriate penalties.


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