The definition of criminal activity can be unclear. What is legal in one state may not be legal in another. The same is true when it comes to being around someone who is engaging in criminal activities. For example, the term misprision of a felony. This term refers to someone who knows about a criminal act but did not report it to the authorities. This definition of crime is one that extends back many centuries and originates in the English common laws that have laid the basis for many American laws. In America, the potential consequences from this problem have largely been without penalty. Many American state government would rather not put people in prison just because they knew about a crime but didn’t tell anyone. Given how many people fall into this definition, it’s hardly surprising that this specific law is typically only applied in certain circumstances.
Specific State Laws
The vast majority of states have abolished the notion of what are known as common law crimes. For example, residents of New Jersey have completely abolished them. Some states have what are considered to be misprision-type laws. However, prosecutions of this kind tend to be rare. It’s important to keep in mind that these sort of so-called crimes tend are typically prosecuted under different statues other than the misprision laws. For example, someone my be charged under what is known as the accessory after the fact laws. They can also be charged for making false statements to law enforcement officials or for obstructing the course of a criminal investigation. The kind of crimes that will cause this kind of misprision statutes to be applied typically fall under what is known as the failure to report a completed felony. People can also be charged for their failure to speak up if they knew that someone was going to commit a crime in the future.
How the Law is Applied
When someone is charged with misprision of felony, the crime is only a misdemeanor. In addition, the failure to report is required to have any additional issues such as what is known as an “evil motive.” A person may be prosecuted under this statute if they find a dead body but say nothing because they do so while they are having an adulterous affair or otherwise engaged in criminal activities. People cannot be compelled to report a crime if that crime would incriminate them under the Fifth Amendment. The courts have repeatedly held that someone can be forced to give testimony against themselves. Keep in mind that such laws vary greatly from state to state. Many prosecutors are reluctant to bring such charges because these sorts of crimes fall under statutes that are more commonly applied such as an accessory after the fact. Prosecuting an accessory after the fact may be easier for the prosecutor because these laws are more familiar to all concerned including the prosecutor, judge and district attorney.
Proper Legal Counsel
Given the rarity of the type of charge, it is imperative to have a lawyer on hand who knows how best to respond. A lawyer can provide the defendant with the help they need to understand exactly what misprision of a felony means. They can can also help the client argue in favor of dropping the charges as such charges may not be leveled against most people who could possibly fall under this statute. A lawyer who is familiar with certain state laws can also provide their client with the assistance they need to consider pleading guilty to a lesser charge like this one. This can allow them to avoid more serious charges and more serious possible penalties. Each client should be aware of the laws in their community and what it means if they plead guilty to this kind of felony. A lawyer can ultimately provide the help they need to get on with their lives.