Making a Hoax Call to Emergency Services Offences, Penalties and Defences in NSW

Sahar Adatia.

 

When it comes to calling emergency services, as common sense dictates, the purpose of dialling for assistance is generally where there is a situation of distress and urgent help is required, whether that be from the police, fire services or the ambulance.

Alas, for some people out there, common sense does not always prevail, and instead, so unravels a case of stupidity.

Take for example, a man from the United States who decided he would make nuisance calls to the emergency services, simply to advise them that he was “tired”.

The man has now been jailed over the offence.

Let’s unpack this…

 

A History of Inappropriate Calls to Emergency Services: How the Man Came to be Arrested

According to reports from local news outlet The Smoking Gun, on Tuesday 14 September 2021, 61-year-old Daniel Schroeder was arrested at his Evansville home after he was connected to a series of ongoing calls placed that evening to the police emergency line.

“The male caller kept calling in stating that he was tired,” police stated in a report.

Given the key role of emergency services is to find the location of people in distress, the service, with the help of their sophisticated technology, was able to promptly find out who was calling them.

Indeed, thanks to this complex technology, they were also able to trace the Indiana man swiftly, who did not cease in his constant calling and whinging, and “placed the offender into custody for misuse of the 911 system”.

As it turns out, Mr Schroeder’s improper calls to the emergency service about his tiredness were not the first of his indecorous endeavours.

Just the day before, the Indiana man had pleaded guilty to a prior misuse of the 911 system.

In this case, he kept calling police to report him being upset that a female relative “was not following his rules”.

At Mr Schroeder’s court hearing over the matter, the judge ordered the man to serve six months in jail, however suspended imposition of the sentence “on the condition the deft does not call 911 unless it is an emergency”.

Nevertheless, the very next day, Mr Schroeder violated that agreement, inciting prosecutors to file a motion pursuing the revocation of his suspended sentence.

Ultimately, Mr Schroeder faced court once again for his most recent unlawful use of dialling the emergency services.

He was handed a sentence of 60 days in the Vanderburgh County jail on the misdemeanour charge.

Mr Schroeder’s sentence in the original case was amended to 60 days behind bars, which will run concurrently with the latter case.

Along with improper use of an emergency call service, his criminal history now includes four convictions for drink driving, as well as convictions for drug possession and leaving the scene of an accident.

 

Why the Improper Use of an Emergency Service is so Serious

Whether engaging in improper calls to emergency services to advise that you’re “tired”, or attempting to pull off a prank, or even carrying out a fake call to have police attend a trivial incident, using an emergency call service for the wrong reasons always leads to wasted time and resources.

In turn, this has the potential to leave people in genuine need of help in danger or even at risk of death, all while emergency services workers are held up attending to a trifling, minor, or fabricated situation, often with a whole response team being called out.

The serious penalties are put in place as means to deter people from using emergency services dishonestly and unlawfully.

Making Hoax Calls to Emergency Services Offences, Penalties and Defences in NSW

In Australia, the improper use of an emergency call service is an offence.

Turning to the law on this, section 474.18 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) states that a person is guilty of an offence where they make a call to an emergency service number and do so with the

intention to inducing a false belief than an emergency exists.

Additionally, a person is guilty of an offence if they make a call to an emergency service number and the person makes the call other than for the purpose of reporting an emergency and the call is a vexatious one, according to s474.18(2).

Both aforementioned offences carry a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and a fine of up to $37,800 if dealt with in the District Court. If dealt with in the local court, the maximum penalty the court may impose is up to 1 year imprisonment or $12,600 fine, or both.

In determining whether a call by a person to an emergency service number is a vexatious one, the court will consider the content of the call, the number, frequency and content of previous calls the person has made to emergency service numbers other than for the purpose of reporting emergencies, and any other matters that are relevant.

Defences to the charge can include that it was someone else, not you, who made the improper phone call to the emergency service, or necessity or duress, or a mental illness defence.

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