Vol. 17 No. 8- Supreme Court Rules P.C. 148.6 Constitutional

December 9, 2002

To: All Police Chiefs and Sheriffs

From: Martin J. Mayer


On Thursday, December 5, 2002, the California Supreme Court, in the case of People v. Stanistreet, unanimously overruled the Court of Appeal and held that P.C. 148.6 is constitutional, even though it’s protection is applicable to peace officers only. The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirmed that it is a misdemeanor for a person to accuse a peace officer of misconduct, if the accuser knows the allegation is false.

The firm of Jones & Mayer had the privilege, through the efforts of Mike Capizzi and myself, to prepare and submit an Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of the California State Sheriffs Association, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Peace Officers Association, supporting the constitutionality of the section.

Pursuant to a 1995 statute, all citizen complaint forms were required to contain, in bold typeface, a statement which includes, in part, that “(i)f you make a complaint against an officer knowing that it is false, you can be prosecuted on a misdemeanor charge.” After Stanistreet and another person had accused an Oxnard police officer of committing lewd conduct at a Police Athletic League function, an investigation proved the allegation to be false. Subsequently, the Ventura County District Attorney prosecuted them and a jury found the defendants guilty of violating section 148.6 of the Penal Code. A Court of Appeal thereafter ruled that the section was unconstitutional because it protected only peace officers, and no other public officials.

Among other arguments we made in our Amicus brief, we took the position that peace officers, because of the nature of their jobs, needed such additional protection in order for them to be able to carry out their duties without fearing false complaints would be lodged against them. The Supreme Court agreed with that position and stated that, “(k)nowlingly false accusations of misconduct against a peace officer have substantial secondary effects – they trigger mandatory investigation and record retention requirements. Complaints directed at other persons do not receive this special treatment.”

“When a person makes a complaint against a peace officer of the type that section 148.6 governs, the agency receiving the complaint is legally OBLIGATED to investigate it and to retain the complaint and resulting reports or findings for at least five years. Thus, the potential harm of a knowingly false statement is greater here than in other situations.” (Emphasis in original.)

The Court also stated that, “(s)peech criticizing the government and government officials receives the highest protection. However, this protection does not extend to all speech.” The statute prohibits only accusations the person KNOWS to be false, and “(t)hose who knowingly give false information to police officers should be discouraged from doing so.”


As the Court pointed out, the purpose of this section is to deter the filing of only those complaints a person knows to be false. It does not prevent one from filing a good faith complaint regarding alleged misconduct by a peace officer. Therefore, all citizen complaint forms must continue to set forth the provisions of P.C. section 148.6 which state that all persons have a right to file a complaint against a peace officer for improper conduct. The statement, however, must also include the warning that one can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor if he or she files such a complaint knowing it is false.

As always, we urge that you confer with your agency’s legal advisor regarding this matter. If you have questions or wish to discuss this Memo in greater detail, please do not hesitate to communicate with Martin Mayer at 714-446-1400 or mjm@jones-mayer.com.

[The Law Offices of Jones & Mayer located in Fullerton, California focus its practice on representing the interests of public entities as its City Attorney, in labor negotiations, in defending tort litigation and civil rights litigation. Martin Mayer focuses his practice in the area of representing cities, counties and the State on matters arising out of their respective law enforcement agencies.]


Vol.17#8 Website