We often think of false alarms as harmless school pranks where someone pulls a fire alarm and suffers minimal consequences. However, such an idyllic consequence-free environment is simply not the way of the world. Pulling a fire alarm when no emergency exists can result in serious criminal charges for adults and children alike.
A false alarm may be a serious crime and can include behavior beyond merely pulling a fire alarm. Circulating false warnings or reports of some impending danger, like a fire or explosion, knowing that evacuation is likely may be a criminal offense. False alarms regarding more serious emergencies, like a bombing or hostage situation, may be charged more harshly. The nature of the false emergency and how you raised the alarm will factor into how you are charged.
These offenses are serious because responding to the alarm wastes valuable resources and diverts them from real emergencies. Our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys have handled these kinds of cases before and can help you challenge the charges against you. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 to discuss your case with our experienced lawyers. Call and ask about a free legal consultation today.
Is It a Crime to Falsely Sound a Fire Alarm in New Jersey?
Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-3, it is a felony to pull a fire alarm or otherwise make a false report or warning of a disaster when none exists and an evacuation is likely. Warnings of a disaster can include an explosion, natural disaster, manmade disaster, or a generalized alarm meant to signify danger. If charges for falsely pulling a fire alarm in a casino or other location are advanced, the prosecution must prove three elements beyond the shadow of a doubt. Our Cape May criminal defense attorneys for charges related to pulling fire alarms have experience with these types of situations.
First, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant knowingly made a report or an alarm to warn of or against an impending disaster.
Second, the prosecution must prove that the individual knew or knew that there was a high likelihood that the information was false or without any factual basis.
Third, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was aware that the untrue report was at least likely to result in the evacuation of the facility. It is not necessary for an actual evacuation of the casino or other facility to occur. The state must simply prove that a false report was made while knowing that the report was untrue and likely to result in an evacuation.
What Are The Penalties for Triggering False Fire Alarms in New Jersey
All alleged acts of false alarms are indictable crimes. Indictable crimes are New Jersey’s version of a felony, and our Haddonfield, NJ criminal defense attorneys for charges related to pulling fire alarms regularly handle such cases. Because these are more serious indictable crimes, all criminal proceedings are held in New Jersey Superior Court. By default, this act is considered a third-degree indictable crime when no further consequences stem from the false alarm or false pulling of a firm alarm. A third-degree crime can be punished by a three- to five-year prison sentence. However, penalties become significantly harsher if a serious bodily injury or death occurs because of the false alarm.
False alarms that result in a serious bodily injury to another person are considered second-degree indictable offenses. A second degree-crime can be punished by a five to ten years prison sentence and significant monetary fines.
If the false report is made during a declared county, state, or national emergency or if the false report leads to a fatality, then first-degree criminal charges are appropriate. First-degree charges can, upon conviction, result in the imposition of a state prison sentence between 10 to 20 years and significant monetary penalties.
What Happens if Someone is Hurt Because of a False Alarm in New Jersey
As mentioned previously, the charges and penalties for making a false alarm if someone is injured because of that false alarm will escalate. Charges will be similarly upgraded if the false alarm is made at a time of county, state, or national emergency. Charges may be upgraded from third-degree crimes to second-degree crimes in these situations. Our New Jersey false alarm defense lawyers can assess your situation to determine if your charges meet the criteria for being upgraded or enhanced.
False alarms are not always harmless pranks. In some cases, they lead to mass panic, confusion, and evacuation. For example, if someone raises a false alarm about a non-existent fire, people may panic and attempt to flee the building. In their haste, people could fall down the stairs or be trampled by other panicked people.
A county, state, or national emergency could include any number of emergency situations. National emergencies might be more unusual and tend to include things like times of war. However, a state or county emergency could be related to weather emergencies or natural disasters. For example, a county could declare a state of emergency during a violent hurricane. If you were to make a false alarm and cause an evacuation during this time when emergency resources are already stretched thin, your charges might be upgraded.
Under the law, it is no defense that you did not know about the state of emergency or the possibility of injury. A defendant could be held strictly liable under these circumstances.
Defending Against Charges for Pulling a Fire Alarm in New Jersey
A false alarm is more than pulling the trigger on an alarm system like a fire alarm in a school. It involves deliberately raising some sort of alarm, whether mechanical or verbal statements, that you know are false and likely to cause evacuation. One important element of any false alarm case is the intent and knowledge of the defendant.
To be convicted, you must know that the emergency is false. It can be difficult to prove what someone knew or intended as it is impossible to know what a defendant was thinking. However, your knowledge and intent may be evidenced by the surrounding circumstances. For example, suppose you pulled a fire alarm and had a large office building evacuated even though there was no fire. You could defend yourself if you had a good faith belief there was a fire. For example, if you smelled smoke before pulling the fire alarm, and investigators find burnt-out cigarettes in a trashcan in a nearby restroom, your false belief in a fire could be explained.
Another important element is the effect your false alarm has on other people. To be convicted, there must be some risk of evacuation or public inconvenience. If no such possibility exists, you might be able to defend yourself against the charges. For example, pulling a fire alarm in an office building, as mentioned above, may result in the evacuation of the entire building. However, if the fire alarm was pulled at night when the building was empty, there is no possibility of evacuation.
Consult with our Atlantic County criminal defense attorneys for charges related to pulling fire alarms about your case as soon as possible. Every case of a false alarm is unique because the way in which the alarm is raised and the allegedly false emergency may be different. Similarly, the effect on the public, like evacuation or another inconvenience, may be unpredictable.
Financial Costs of False Alarm Charges in New Jersey
In addition to criminal penalties like possible prison time, a defendant convicted of making a false public alarm may also face severe civil penalties. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-3, a convicted defendant must pay a civil penalty for their false alarm offense. The penalty could be as great as the cost of the wasted emergency services, including law enforcement and emergency services that were dispatched. Otherwise, the penalty will be no less than $2,000.
If your false alarm case is serious and involves risks to public safety and the dispatch of emergency services, your civil fines could be extremely high. If a false alarm causes widespread panic, you could end up paying for police, fire department, or emergency medical services.
The importance of having an attorney on your side goes far beyond fighting your charges. You need an attorney who can fight for fair sentencing if you are unfortunately convicted or decide to plead guilty. Sentencing is not always set in stone by statute. Many criminal sentences must be argued and debated by prosecutors and defense attorneys before a judge makes a final decision. Our New Jersey false alarm defense lawyers will work to get you the fairest penalties possible.
In many cases, the fairest penalty is not the harshest. Just because you were convicted of raising a false alarm does not mean you should cover the entire cost of dispatching emergency services. That kind of expense could financially cripple a person for life. Our team can argue for the fairest and least expensive civil penalties possible.
Contact Our New Jersey False Alarm Defense Lawyers
If you are facing the potential loss of your freedom and the stigma of a criminal conviction, our experienced Ocean City criminal defense lawyers can make all the difference by fighting for you. To schedule a free and confidential criminal defense consultation, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.