Many of our readers have likely heard of at least one high-profile case involving something called "swatting." It refers to falsely accusing someone of a crime with the intention of bringing an immediate and overwhelming show of force by law enforcement. Whether someone does it as a prank or for revenge, the consequences can be deadly. It can also result in serious criminal consequences for the person accused of making the call to law enforcement.

Is the Accusation a Mistake or an Intentional Falsehood?

Not all criminal accusations that turn out to be unfounded are intentional. Law enforcement and prosecutors take that into consideration. People who reasonably believe that a crime had been or was being committed -- perhaps because they heard screams of "Help!" from the house next door, are not going to be penalized.

People make false accusations for all kinds of reasons. Divorcing parents fighting over custody of their children, for example, may accuse one another of child abuse, drug use or any number of illegal activities.

What Are the Potential Criminal and Civil Consequences?

Intentionally making a false report to law enforcement is almost universally a misdemeanor, which can result in a year behind bars. People who do that also open themselves up to civil liability by the person they accuse of a crime. They may have to pay compensatory damages for financial losses suffered by victims if, for example, they were unable to work because they were detained by police or lost a job because of the accusation. The victim may also sue for punitive damages, such as emotional stress.

Those charged with swatting can face felony charges. If the false charge involves terrorism, someone convicted of swatting could spend decades behind bars. When potential terrorism and other high-level threats are falsely reported, the level of resources brought to bear is extremely high. The chance of innocent people getting harmed or killed is also higher.

If you or a loved one is charged with making false accusations to law enforcement, it's essential to take the matter seriously. Even if the accusation was intended as a prank and not meant to hurt anyone, law enforcement and prosecutors consider it a crime and treat it as one.