It's clear that you can be prosecuted for the things you do, but can you be prosecuted for something you fail to do as well? Suppose you're a witness to a crime and you don't report it to the police. Will fear or reluctance of getting involved result in criminal charges?
In most states, mere failure to report a crime isn't a crime in itself. However, there are some exceptions. Below, you'll find a number of instances in which failing to report a crime could expose you to criminal liability.
Failure to Report Laws
In most states failure to report isn't illegal, but a small minority of states have enacted laws punishing individuals who fail to report certain types of crimes to the authorities. Under Texas law, for example, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for failing to report an offense that resulted in serious bodily injury or death. In Ohio, on the other hand, it's illegal to knowingly fail to report a felony.
Take a look at your state's penal code or consult with an attorney to determine whether your state has a failure to report law.
Accessory After the Fact
While merely failing to report a crime is one thing, helping to conceal a crime is another. A person can generally be charged with accessory after the fact, or aiding and abetting, if he or she wasn't actually present during the commission of a crime, but took actions to conceal the crime or help the perpetrators avoid capture.
For example, hiding a weapon that was used in a robbery will probably make you an accessory after the fact under the laws of most states, even if you took no part in the actual robbery. These incidents of failure to report a crime can have serious consequences. Depending on the severity of the underlying crime, aiding and abetting can be either a misdemeanor or a felony in most states.
Mandatory Reporting Laws
Many states have mandatory reporting laws requiring certain types of people to report crimes against children. These "mandatory reporters" generally include parents, teachers, school administrators, clergy, medical professionals, therapists, social workers, and others. In some states, however, anyone who believes child abuse is taking place must report it.
Once a mandatory reporter witnesses an act of abuse or finds evidence of child abuse, he or she has a duty to report the incident to the appropriate authorities. That usually includes sharing important details about the incident, like the names of the victim and perpetrator. Failure to report an incidence of child abuse is a misdemeanor offense in most states.
Charged with Failure to Report a Crime? Get Legal Help
There are several instances where remaining silent and failing to report a crime to authorities can have negative consequences for you. From mandatory reporting laws to becoming an accessory after the fact, crime in any form simply doesn't pay. But if you've been accused of failing to report a criminal offense, you may have options. Speak with a criminal defense attorney in your area today to discuss the specific facts of your case and receive personalized legal advice on how to proceed.