Most people might think back to their days in high school and remember
the fear of being called a “snitch” or a “narc”.
These individuals typically went against the unwritten code to not report
unethical action and told principals or law enforcement officials. However,
these monikers represent a real situation in the adult world–one
where witnessing a crime can be a dilemma. It is easy to say you would
report a crime that is violent in nature, but sometimes you may be witness
to a carjacking, store
theft, or even fraud. Is there a legal obligation for you to report crime when
you see it?
Civil Duty vs. Criminal Duty
Even though we tend to value heroes in today’s society and look up
to those who do the right thing, many Austin residents might be quick
to look away if they witness a drug deal or other “lesser”
crime. Technically, civilians to not have a legal duty to rescue and not
face criminal charges. Unless you are an emergency responder such as the
police, firefighters, or EMT personnel, you will not be held accountable
for failing to rescue a victim of a crime. You are not under any oath
to risk your life and safety for that of another. Those in these specialized
professional roles and the parents of children in danger
can be held accountable for not offering help, even if it means simply calling 911.
If you witness a crime and fail to report it you may feel shunned or ostracized
if the news breaks. However, this civil responsibility cannot translate
to the legal world where criminal charges are pressed. Failure to rescue
cases are usually handled in civil court, if at all. If you are a parent,
however, and you do not report criminal action taken against your child,
you may be arrested under abuse or neglect.
Civilians Who Fail to Report
Even though you are not likely to be called a co-conspirator for looking
outside your window and witnessing someone getting mugged or engaged in
a fight, you might be committing in a criminal scheme if you are silent
or do not take action in long-term, visible crimes. For example, mob wives
and those aware of money laundering associated with RICO cases could still
be held liable.
Cops’ Duty to Report
Police officers in general have a wide scope of discretion as to what crimes
they choose to report — especially in urban areas. Police may be
ethically bound to report all crimes they see, but there is not a criminal
law that punishes not reporting. This is why you may see police officers
in downtown simply give warnings to fighting parties or drunk and disorderly
patrons. Even underage drinkers may be let go with a warning since the
hassle of filing charges is not worth it and the youngsters are likely
to be scared enough to learn their lesson.
Even though it is nice to report crimes you see happening, as this can
protect others and save lives, you do not have a criminal obligation to
do so and will not face charges. If you have any further questions about
whether you could be tied to a crime, call the Kyle Law Firm today so
we can keep your record clean.