Television programming and film are replete with examples of characters making false accusations and lying to police during investigations. Perhaps to divert authorities from themselves or to protect someone they know. But what you often don’t see is the consequences of these actions. Being intentionally deceitful to law enforcement has serious consequences. You can be charged with public mischief, and if found guilty, serve jail time.
Public mischief, like any criminal charge, is never something to take lightly and should be handled with legal representation. If you or someone you know has been charged with public mischief, here are some important factors to understand about this charge.
What is Public Mischief?
Public mischief includes a variety of actions that serve to mislead an investigation. Section 140(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that: Every one commits public mischief who, with intent to mislead, causes a peace officer to enter on or continue an investigation by
- making a false statement that accuses some other person of having comitted an offence;
- doing anything intended to cause some other person to be suspected of having committed an offence that the other person has not committed, or to divert suspicion from himself;
- reporting that an offence has been committed when it has not been committed; or
- reporting or in any other way making it known or causing it ot be made know that he or some other person has died when he or that person has not died.
Staging a crime scene, faking a kidnapping, or faking a death are all caught by this provision. Public mischief charges are often laid in conjunction with other charges. Examples of public mischief charges can be seen in many recent news stories. A 33-year old man was charged with public mischief for his alleged role in a café explosion in Vaughan. Another man was charged with public mischief in the context of a Sarnia forcible confinement case. A hitchhiker in Regina is alleged to have made a false weapons call. Alexa Emerson, made national news, for allegedly calling in bomb threats and delivering suspicious packages.
A more common example of public mischief is when a person makes false allegations or charges against another person. This could be false domestic assault allegations or false sexual assault allegations. It’s also not unheard of for divorcing couples to call in fake allegations to Children’s Aid which would also be considered public mischief.
What is the Punishment for a Public Mischief Charge?
The reasons why people may give the police inaccurate information vary. Sometimes the person may believe the information is true at the time (this scenario would leave the person with a potential mens rea defence). Perhaps to spitefully punish another, or to protect a loved one. Making a false report to the police is a serious matter and there are severe consequences when police waste their resources or time on false accusations. False statements are dangerous to the public good in numerous ways. They may not only obstruct an investigation, but also potentially implicate an innocent person and deprive them of their liberty. The possibility of an innocent person ending up in jail, and the expenditure of police resources are aggravating factors when it comes to sentencing.
Under s. 140(2) of the Criminal Code, the punishment for being found guilty of public mischief depends on whether the Crown decides to proceed summarily (less serious) or by indictment (very serious). A summary election means that one could face up to 6 months jail time and up to a $5,000 fine, while proceeding by indictment could result in imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
What Proof is Necessary?
For an accused to be found guilty of mischief, the crown must prove that the accused reported an offence, that the accused’s actions or words contained in the report were false, that the accused intended to mislead police, and that the accused’s actions or words caused a police officer to commence or continue and investigation.
It should be noted that the accused can be guilty even if the complaint was not the initial complaint.
If the Crown is required to prove these factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
What is Attempted Mischief?
In the case where the police were provided with false information during a report but they were not actually misled or started an investigation, then the accused may be charged with attempted public mischief.
What to Do If Accused?
If you’re facing a public mischief charge you should contact a Toronto criminal lawyer immediately. This charge is very complex and will require that the prosecution prove several factors before you can be convicted. A criminal defence lawyer will be able to provide you with information pertaining to your rights and assess the case against you. Your lawyer will work with you explaining the available defences by reviewing the situation, circumstances, and the related evidence.
Depending on the circumstances and facts presented in the case, your defence lawyer may be able to arrange a negotiation or plea bargain to reduce the sentence to a summary conviction or have the charges stayed.
If you’ve given the police false information or are facing a public mischief charge, your first action should be to contact a legal representative with expertise in these types of cases. At Weisberg Law, we have the experience and knowledge to help guide you through your case.