General Question

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

Is it illegal to not report a crime?

Asked by ItalianPrincess1217 (11979points) October 18th, 2013

I have tried searching this topic on the internet and haven’t found a clear answer. Is it illegal if someone knows information relating to a crime committed and they don’t inform the police because they fear for their safety? Can you get in trouble later on if it’s discovered that you knew about it and never told authorities?

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21 Answers

Judi's avatar

Did you look up aiding and abetting?

Seek's avatar

It depends.

Is the knowledge first hand – as in, the perp says to you directly that they, for example, killed a guy and threw the body in a lake, or hearsay – as in ‘Joe told me that Bob said Steve sold a guy some Roxys and the dude died.’

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr It’s a confession via facebook message.

Seek's avatar

I would consult an attorney.

I understand there’s some misgiving, fear of retaliation. But you also don’t want to be an accessory after the fact if they find the message on his computer later.

A good attorney should be able to tell you how to go about getting the information to the proper authorities while maintaining both your perceived innocence and your anonymity.

hearkat's avatar – I’ve used that site for advice and got some good information. Just be careful to protect your anonymity.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Accessory After the Fact, Obstruction of Justice, and Conspiracy all come to mind, but it really depends on the circumstances. The severity of the crime is a big factor here.

The duty to report a crime is mostly directed at medical and mental health professionals, cops, lawyers, etc., but like I said, it depends.

CWOTUS's avatar

There are some professions, notably medicine and teaching, that I know of, where knowledge or suspicion of high likelihood that “a crime has been committed against a victim who cannot speak for himself or herself” (such as a minor or a mentally or physically incapacitated person, and evidence as displayed by the victim’s demeanor or physical appearance to the doctor / nurse or teacher) must be reported to relevant authorities, but that still has more to do with the profession itself, I believe. I don’t think that in those cases it is a criminal act not to report the crime. There may be professional sanctions applied, even as far as loss of a job or loss of a “license to practice” the profession (in a particular jurisdiction), but whether a criminal case could be made against the witness (assuming the witness isn’t also a participant in the crime!) is doubtful.

There is a strong tendency for prosecutors to browbeat people into “doing their duty” to report criminal offenses, with attempts to use the law as a hammer (as noted by other respondents above), and there may be cases that are so cut-and-dried where it’s only questionable whether the reluctant witness was actually a knowing perpetrator of the crime or was somehow duped or coerced into silence, but still has full knowledge of the crime. But for most people, who may only have “strong suspicion” that a crime has even been committed – or that a particular crime was committed by someone known to the “witness” – the prosecutor’s problem with trying to enforce laws against aiding and abetting is proving to a jury “what someone knew”. Who can make the case against another that “he knew such-and-such”?

Even if you tell me face-to-face that you have committed a crime, for example, it’s easy for me to present from my own side of that conversation that I didn’t understand what you had said, thought you were joking, were being hyperbolic or overly dramatic, or were making some other point through metaphor, for example. And that’s assuming that I don’t make the bald assertion that I simply didn’t hear you or didn’t get the message in the first place. How can you prove otherwise? More to the point, how can a prosecutor?

Laws like this, if they exist at all, are somewhat counter-productive to real civil society, I think.

LostInParadise's avatar

This is a good question and I am not sure of the answer. It is clearly aiding and abetting a crime if you take an active role in hiding a criminal, but that is different from failing to take an active role in reporting the crime. Let me give a specific example and see what people think. You are at a street corner and witness someone being mugged. Are you aiding and abetting the crime by not notifying the police using your cell phone? Should you be obligated to take a picture with your cell phone?

funkdaddy's avatar

@ItalianPrincess1217 – Two things I haven’t seen mentioned but I think plays into the question morally if not legally

1) Do you have unique information? For example are you the only person that knows what happened? I think there’s more of an obligation if you’re the only one that can “help”. In this case it seems there are at least two other people that know what happened and are more connected than you are. Right?
2) Are you trying to help, or something else? Is there a victim that needs your information, or do you just want someone punished? Only you know, and I’m not trying to personally judge either way, real life is complicated. But I would say things have a way of working out better if you’re trying to help then when you’re trying to punish.

Are you aiding and abetting the crime by not notifying the police using your cell phone? Should you be obligated to take a picture with your cell phone?

@LostInParadise – I don’t think so on either count… everyone has their own comfort level and circumstances. For example in that scenario my reaction is completely different if I’m by myself or if I have my 1-year-old with me.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@funkdaddy Both good questions.
1.) I do believe the evidence I have is unique however, other people definitely know about it and just haven’t come forward. The main suspect hasn’t given up any names yet as far as who else was involved. And I happen to know that this was a partnership and they are equally at fault. I believe the reason the suspect hasn’t come forward is fear of the partner’s family retaliating.
2.) My main concern is whether or not holding onto this information can come back to bite me in the ass. Though I would love to see this person behind bars for what they did and I would be happy to see karma finally work its magic, I would rather not put myself and my son at risk for threats, violence, etc. I would rather stay out of it completely and hope that the main suspect fesses up and gives up the other’s name. But I wonder if in the future, they catch the second suspect, look through his computer or phone, see his confession in a message to me, and then I’m in trouble for aiding and abetting or withholding information about a crime.

Bottom line is, I want to do the right thing. And yes, if anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, it involves my ex, the father of my son who abandon him when he was a few months old. Regardless of whether this was an ex, a stranger, or a friend, I want to know that I’m doing the right thing, morally, and legally. BUT I want my son to stay safe no matter what. Trust me when I say, if I “snitch” and him or his family finds out, there will be trouble. It’s almost a guarantee. You know the type of people who seem to fear next to nothing? That’s him. He has no little voice sitting on his shoulder telling him “Don’t do that…that’s not the right choice. Do the right thing!” When it comes to revenge, he’ll find a way to get it, and if he can’t because he’s in prison, his family would gladly carry out the favor for him. You see how I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place?

Judi's avatar

Did this crime involve anyone being physically hurt? If it were me, I might skip it if it were a burglary , but if it were armed robbery or murder I would feel compelled to talk and figure out a plan for my families safety even if it meant moving.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Judi Nobody was hurt. It involved stealing and selling perscription pills.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I know a few people that sell their own prescription pills and I’ve never reported them even though I’m going into law enforcement, mostly because they’re family. Granted, they didn’t steal the pills, but it’s still very much a crime and I certainly don’t approve. My sister is a narcotics addict and I know some people she got her pills from. I still don’t report it and I have no worries that I’d get in trouble if they were busted. The police have bigger fish to fry.

However, it may be a different story if this is some big deal locally, with this person stealing pills from a pharmacy or something and an investigation is in process. Still, I doubt you’d be in any serious trouble. They want him, not you. Actively concealing it, helping him evade police, or lying to law enforcement about it would be a different story. Don’t do any of those things.

I think I’d call in an anonymous tip, if it’s a big ongoing case.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@livelaughlove21 It’s a pretty huge deal locally right now. So maybe calling calling in an anonymous tip would be best.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The ethical thing to do would be to tell the police about this information that is broadly available on Facebook and they can decide whether to pursue the matter fully. If you were involved in an way in the perpetration of the criminal act, you should definitely consult an attorney. There is so much information on Facebook that is of questionable validity. Some of it is of no greater validity than things someone might have scrawled on the wall on a public restroom.

hearkat's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence: It is not a public post on Facebook, it is a private message, so the OP might be the only person who has a record of the confession. Therefore, it would be pretty easy for the other party to figure out who turned him in. Who knows, he might even be setting her up to test her.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@hearkat Exactly. That’s what ran through my head. For an ex to message me after disappearing for almost 2 years, and confess something that huge simply because he “wanted to get it off his chest”? Sounds very sketchy to me. The way he described in such detail, and even named another name of someone else involved…it didn’t sound right to me. That’s why I never believed it at first. I checked the news sites and googled the story. Came up with nothing. 2 months later, it’s all over the news. Breaking story on every station. I was shocked. My jaw hit the floor when I heard about it. But for him to confess that information to someone who he knows has nothing but bad feelings towards him? Sounds suspicious…

funkdaddy's avatar

Are you looking for advice from someone on this? A lawyer will tell you your options and obligations, a friend might tell you what they would do, fluther might give you 100 varied opinions, but making a decision would put it to bed one way or the other.

CWOTUS's avatar

I would totally stay away from this, @ItalianPrincess1217. There’s no way for you to know, for example, how secure his Facebook page is in the first place. That is, did “he” really send you that confession himself, or could someone else – unknown to both of you and with bad intent toward at least one of you and maybe both of you – be setting you up to bring him down, or at least have him charged with the crime? These days it’s not such a far-fetched idea that a friend or acquaintance could be present with him while he leaves his computer logged into Facebook, trusting the acquaintance to not pretend to be him, for example. You can imagine where that might lead if the friend were not a friend. All kinds of scenarios are possible.

These days, I even question the ethics of attorneys to maintain the confidentiality that is one of the ethics of that profession. You don’t know which attorneys have designs on a future in politics, for one thing, which opens up investigation into their careers and their works and papers. I would have to have my name associated in a questionable, dodgy or insecure way (exactly the ways that have been described in this thread) with an attorney who later developed a taste for elective office and publicity, and especially if he decides to be some kind of crusading do-gooder.

I’d continue to lie low on this. You’re not at fault for not reporting even if you know for a certainty that your ex did the crime, provided you didn’t aid him in the planning, benefit directly from the commission and execution of the bad act, or provide cover or a hiding place, false alibi witness or other direct assistance to him in the act. Try to leave it alone.

Seek's avatar

Since there was no violent crime committed, I agree with @CWOTUS. It would be different in my mind if it were a murder investigation. A little black market scrip dealing is nothing to get involved in.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

Quick update! Turns out they were the informant the entire time. No wonder he confessed the crime, he knew he was safe. He got caught committing a crime and made a deal to get himself off the hook. So no worries as far as me reporting or not reporting the crime. It didn’t matter anyway unfortunately.

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