“A joke is a very serious thing” – Winston Churchill.
If you have watched the news or read it on the Internet, you know about the serious and deadly epidemic of Ebola that has hit West Africa, and that there have been a few cases reported in the United States. Recently, there have been two incidents of people who have claimed to have Ebola while using public transportation that caused an overwhelming response from police and health safety officials. Each incident is now believed to be a hoax.
The Man Who Cried Ebola
In Los Angeles, the FBI is looking for a man and a woman who caused panic on a city bus. The man and woman boarded the bus together. The man, who was wearing a surgical mask, yelled to the other passengers, “Don’t mess with me. I have Ebola!” He tore off the mask, slammed it on the floor, and he and the woman exited the bus. The driver called 911, and he and the bus were quarantined during the investigation. As of this writing, the man and woman have not yet been found.1
In the Dominican Republic, a passenger on a flight from Philadelphia announced to his fellow passengers that he had been to Africa and that he had Ebola. As the plane was landing in Punta Cana, he yelled, “You’re all screwed!” The flight crew alerted the authorities, and the plane was stopped at the terminal with its passengers quarantined until public health officials in HAZMAT suits escorted the man off the plane. He later claimed he was just joking.2
A sense of humor is a great thing to have, but not everyone always finds practical jokes to be funny, especially when the subject matter for the joke is a deadly infectious disease. The question is: Has either of these persons broken a law by publicly and falsely proclaiming that they have Ebola? In California, the answer could be yes.
Falsely Reporting an Emergency (California Penal Code Section 148.3)
Though there is no law in California that specifically relates to intentionally lying in public about having a deadly communicable disease, California Penal Code Section 148.3 makes it a crime to report an emergency (or causing someone else to file the report) knowing that the report is false. The law defines “emergency” as:
- any condition that results in, or could result in, the response of a public official in an authorized emergency vehicle, aircraft, or vessel;
- any condition that jeopardizes or could jeopardize public safety and results in, or could result in, the evacuation of any area, building, structure, vehicle, or of any other place that any individual may enter; or
- any situation that results in or could result in activation of the Emergency Alert System.3
Violating this law is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, and/or a maximum of one year in county jail. Additionally, if a person is aware or should be aware that the response to the report may cause death or serious bodily harm, and a person is harmed or killed during the response to the false report, the crime becomes a felony. A felony violation is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, and up to three years in county jail. In either a felony or a misdemeanor case, the person could also be liable for the costs of the response to the emergency.
By way of example, suppose in the scene on the bus in Los Angeles, the bus driver calls 911 and police and health officials rush to the scene. On the way to the scene, the paramedic unit crashes into a car in an intersection, killing the other driver. The person who falsely claimed to have Ebola could potentially be charged with a felony because he should know that his claim would cause the bus driver to make the false report, and that he should know that such a report would involve a rapid response that could endanger other drivers on the roads where the emergency vehicles would be traveling.
Contact the Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you or someone you know has been accused of filing a false report of an emergency, you will need an experienced an aggressive attorney to help you win your case. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully defending clients against all types of criminal charges for more than 30 years. Let us help you, too. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you, no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
1. [Veronica Rocha, “Metro bus driver quarantined after passenger yells ‘I have Ebola!’”, Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2014, available at: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-metro-bus-ebola-20141013-story.html.]↩
2. [Lindsey Bever, “Ebola joke rattles passengers on US Airways flight to Dominican Republic,” The Washington Post, October 10, 2014, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/10/ebola-joke-rattles-passengers-on-us-airways-flight-to-dominican-republic/.]↩
3. [Cal. Pen. Code §148.3.]↩