By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Failure to report a felony is rarely charged — but it is a crime. What is more commonly charged is failure to report the abuse or neglect of a child.
When we do see these types of charges, it is often because law enforcement suspects far worse but simply can’t prove anything… or it is often a reduced charge the prosecutors and defense lawyers settle on for a plea negotiation.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 38.171 requires the felony to be one which (1) the person observed; (2) it is likely serious bodily injury or death may have occurred; (3) It’s reasonable to think no one else has reported it; and (4) the person can make the report themselves if it doesn’t place them in danger.
— and if this crazy offense does occur, it is a Class A misdemeanor.
The Federal Law is called Misprision of a Felony. It is much broader in that there only be “knowledge” of the felony. A major difference is under Federal law, the accused must take an affirmative step in assisting concealment of the felony… in essence making them an accessory.
Keep a few things in mind about failure to report crimes and they start making sense for why we see them so rarely:
Police Want the Real Offender
They want the perpetrator of the crime someone knows about more than anything else. If police had to round up and prosecute people who knew they think knew about certain crimes but didn’t report — it would make their work load go crazy.
“Failure to Report” cases are really hard to prove.
How do you go about proving someone “knew” about something…? You’d almost think they’d have to witness it themselves?
Also consider that someone might have some information a crime was committed — but not enough information to truly assist police.
The statutes take these things into consideration which is why they are so narrow. The gist of these laws is police want and need help in serious situations… not to round everyone up who knows something.
Law Enforcement Usually Understand’s You’re in a Tough Spot Too
Police are people too and they might understand the witness or person is in a tough spot to do something. Many crimes take planning and a series of bad decisions. Witnesses to crimes normally don’t choose to be witnesses and they often have to make decisions on the spot.
I can see police threatening people with this charge to get them to talk about solving the underlying crime… but again, remember the cops want the REAL bad guy more than anything.
Failure to Report Abuse or Neglect of a Child or failure to report Aggravated Sexual Assault of a child is a bit of a different story. I’ll write about that in another blog.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is licensed by the State Bar of Texas. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.