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You’ve been tempted, just go ahead and admit it.  We all have, even on a lark or as a dare.  My thoughts have always been, Hmm, I wonder if this really works; I’ve been looking at this thing for years and haven’t heard it go off once – how do I know it’s working?  Maybe someone should test it.  However, in the state of California, this seemingly harmless action can lead to criminal prosecution – and in some cases, very serious consequences.  Our Ventura criminal defense lawyers explain some of the penalties that can result from pulling a fire alarm when there is no fire or other emergency.

Why is it Illegal to Pull a Fire Alarm When There is No Emergency?

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It is not a crime to pull a fire alarm – as long as there is actually a fire or other bona fide emergency.  However, it is a crime to pull that handle maliciously.  We all know those little red boxes we see everywhere, and we all know what they are for, so of course we know the proper use for them – or do we?

There is an old adage which says that you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theatre.  We’ve all heard that phrase and maybe wondered why we shouldn’t or can’t do that.  The answer is that this is the type of action which can lead to panic and havoc, causing all patrons in that theater to run for the emergency exits and all wanting to get out first, which of course induces a riot-like atmosphere of “dog eat dog” or “survival of the fittest.”  Someone is bound to trip and be trampled.  Unsurprisingly, our society will not condone this type of needless chaos – and when someone defies societal norms, there are consequences which must be paid.

Now, if there was a fire, our hypothetical movie theatre patron would of course be welcome to alert everyone.  He or she could pull that little red box and, by doing so, alert all theater-goers, the management of the theater, and, as with most modern equipment, automatically notify the fire department of the emergency.  If memory serves me correctly, it was exactly the notification to the fire department for which alarms were first used; but back then, the alarm only rang to the local fire station, and if there were no flames when the department responded, then the exercise was in vain and the fire chief would be very upset that his nap was interrupted.

On a more serious note, if you pull a fire alarm when there is no fire or other emergency situation, then you are probably violating numerous laws because you are simultaneously making a false report, usurping the valuable time of the fire and police departments, and maybe even causing someone to have severe anxiety or get trampled in the mass exodus from the movie theatre (or other setting).

Penalties for Making a False Report Under California Penal Code 148.4

Cal. Penal Code § 148.4 provides serious criminal penalties for anyone who willfully and maliciously gives, sends, or transmits a false alarm of fire.  In California, this offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or up to $1,000 in criminal fines.
If the false alarm causes another person to sustain great bodily injury, or results in the death of another person, you can be charged with a felony, a more serious type of offense which could send you to state prison for years.  Having a felony record can also make it very difficult to get a job.

Possible Legal Defenses Against Setting Off a Fire Alarm

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What defense could you raise in response to a charge of setting off a false fire alarm?  As with defamation laws, the truth is always a defense, and the fact that there was a fire would be truth enough.

Another situation where your actions would not be considered criminal is when there was a true, actual, or realistically believable situation requiring immediate help or assistance – for instance, a medical emergency occurs and there is no phone or other way to summon help.

The final instance that I can think of would be when you have authority to do so, such as in a situation where an alarm system needs to be tested.  So, when can you lawfully pull that little red handle that tempts us all?  When there is a fire, when there is a true emergency, and/or when you have authority to do so.  Otherwise, you risk being charged with a crime under California’s penal code.

Oxnard Defense Lawyers Serving Ventura County, California

If you, your son or daughter, or another family member was charged with pulling a fire alarm or making a false emergency report in Ventura County, you need aggressive legal representation by a knowledgeable defense lawyer who has experience handling these types of cases.  At The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC, our dedicated Ventura County criminal lawyers bring more than 22 years of experience to each case we handle, ranging from minor misdemeanors to the most serious felonies.

Don’t wait to seek legal help if you, your spouse, or another loved one has been accused of pulling a fire alarm when there was no fire.  To arrange a confidential and completely free legal consultation, call The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 585-5056 immediately.

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