Depends on The Type of Crime
People often wonder whether they have a legal duty to report a crime. Everyone has different responses after witnessing a crime. While some will jump into action and try to intervene, others will contact law enforcement and seek help. Though, others might ignore it completely.
For most crimes, there are no legal repercussions for failing to report them; however, you could face charges in some situations under Penal Code 152.3.
Which Situations Require You to Report a Crime?
There are many instances where you can fail to report a criminal act that you are aware of and fail to be punished by the law.
Not reporting a crime, itself is not a crime, though there are exceptions for certain crimes like murder, rape or sexual abuse of a child, under California Penal Code 152.3
If you know about a crime, it is possible to be charged with aiding and abetting a crime. Despite you not having committed the crime itself, you are liable to face potential punishment if this charge is brought against you. California’s parties to crime laws state that any action that helped another person commit a crime is considered an aider and abettor.
Such actions include:
- The defendant knew the details of the scheme that was being planned
- The defendant encouraged another person to commit the criminal act
- The defendant assisted directly with the criminal activity like being the lookout for a burglary
In situations where you helped cover a criminal act by devising a way to assist, even if you were not there physically, you can still be charged as you are implicated in the act. For example, if you help a person(s) who has committed a criminal act to hide the weapon used during the offense, like a knife or a gun, even if you took no part in the said crime itself, depending on how severe the crime was, you may still be charged with accessory.
Also, it is possible to suffer legal consequences in situations where your job demands that you report instances where they might be child abuse and neglect. Such professions include teachers and social workers. If such people knowingly fail to protect the welfare of a child(ren), they can face heft fines or jail time. If convicted of failing to report a federal felony offense, you can also be charged with obstruction, face jail time, or pay a fine.
What are Mandatory Reporting Laws?
Certain people are required by California’s Mandatory Reporting Laws to report crimes dutifully, whether they witnessed them or not. These certain people are professionals like:
- Teachers and school officials
- Law enforcement officers
- Social workers
- Medics, and
Mandatory reporting laws cover crimes like:
If any of the above professionals knowingly failed to report the above crimes, they are liable to a misdemeanor charge and can serve up to six months in county jail or pay a fine of $1000.Also, preventing someone from filing a mandatory report is punishable with a one-year county jail term and a $5000 fine.
What Are the Duties of Witnesses in Reporting Crimes?
The California law recognizes the limited duty to report violent crimes against children 14 years old or younger. Under Penal Code 152.3, people who witness a murder, rape, or sexual conduct against a child under the age of 14 must come forward and report such offenses. Failure to do so is considered a misdemeanor offense that is punishable by serving six months in county jail and paying a $1500 fine. The exception to the duty to report law is exempted under certain familial relationships, like if the crime is perpetrated by a brother, spouse, sister, or grandparent.
Although in most states failing to report a crime is not illegal, several states have enacted laws that punish witnesses who fail to report certain crimes to authorities; for example, in Texas, you can face a Class A misdemeanor if you fail to report a crime that led to severe bodily injury or death of a victim. Therefore, in most states, witnesses have no obligation to report a crime unless under certain exceptions discussed above.
Falsely Reporting a Crime
However, it is also very important to be aware that you can get into legal trouble if you submit a crime report that turns out to be false. Under Penal Code 148.5, you can be liable to face a legal charge.
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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.