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What Happens if I Pretend to Go Missing in California?

Crime scene tape against a backdrop of police lights and a car accident scene.

Recently, a 25-year-old woman named Carlee Russell was charged with pretending to go missing in Alabama. According to National Public Radio (NPR), the entire ordeal began when Russell called 911 to report seeing a stranded toddler on the side of the road while driving on the interstate. After making the call, Russell went missing for two days.

Police responded to the scene of her disappearance only to find her car and cellphone abandoned on the roadside. Also, there were no signs a toddler had been in the area and no other witnesses to corroborate her story. In addition, no one in the area had reported a toddler missing during that timeframe.

Around 48 hours after Russell went missing, she returned home to the shock of her family and authorities. A couple of weeks after that, Russell was charged with falsely reporting an incident and falsely reporting to law enforcement officers, per NPR. If convicted, Russell could face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.

What Are the Consequences of Pretending to Go Missing in California?

It may sound like a thrilling adventure to disappear for a while and start a new life, or to fake a kidnapping for some reason. However, assuming a new identity or intentionally misleading law enforcement officials is a serious crime in California. People who pretend to go missing or fake a kidnapping can face harsh legal penalties as well as other consequences, including:

  • False Reporting to Law Enforcement: People who pretend to go missing or fake a kidnapping can be prosecuted for false reporting to law enforcement. This means that they intentionally gave false information to the police, such as providing a fake name, age, or description of the kidnapper or perpetrator. A false reporting conviction can result in jail time and fines. In addition, if the false report caused the authorities to launch a search or investigation, the defendant may be ordered to pay restitution for the cost of the operation.
  • Obstruction of Justice: Pretending to go missing or faking a kidnapping can also be considered obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice occurs when someone interferes with or obstructs an investigation or legal process. Examples of obstruction include lying to the police, destroying evidence, or intimidating witnesses. An obstruction of justice conviction can lead to long-term imprisonment, hefty fines, and a damaged reputation.
  • Kidnapping: If you pretend to go missing or fake a kidnapping, you may be charged with actual kidnapping. Kidnapping is defined in California as the forcible taking, enticing, or abduction of another person. The offense can be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances, and a conviction can result in prison time, fines, and other penalties. If the victim suffered harm or was taken across state lines or overseas, the penalties can increase significantly.
  • Fraud: Pretending to go missing or faking a kidnapping can also amount to fraud. Fraud involves intentionally deceiving someone else for personal gain or causing them financial harm. Examples of fraud include insurance fraud, loan fraud, and credit card fraud. If you faked your kidnapping to collect ransom money, gather sympathy, or avoid paying debts, you could be charged with fraud, which is a serious crime in California that can lead to imprisonment, fines, and restitution.
  • Repercussions on Your Future: The consequences of pretending to go missing or faking a kidnapping in California can last beyond the legal penalties. If you are convicted of a crime and spend time in jail or on probation, you may find it hard to get a job, rent an apartment, or qualify for credit. Your criminal record can follow you for years, if not forever, and may limit your opportunities and affect your personal and professional relationships. In addition, the stigma and shame of being involved in a high-profile crime like kidnapping can be psychologically damaging and haunting.

If you are facing criminal charges related to faking a disappearance or kidnapping, it’s important to seek legal advice and representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can help you understand your rights, your options, and the potential outcomes of your case.

Facing criminal charges related to pretending to go missing? Call Appel & Morse at (805) 467-6060 or get in touch with us online today to schedule a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense attorneys in California.

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