Obligation to report seeing an illegal object?

When there is an illegal item in plain sight on someone’s private property but its ownership is not clear, does merely seeing the item (and recognizing it as illegal) cause the passerby to incur a legal obligation to report its presence? Does the type of illegal item (automatic weapon on the porch, marijuana plant growing in someone’s garden, pirated DVDs at a yard sale, stolen car in the driveway) change the obligation incurred? What if the object is plainly visible from public property?

I understand that a law-abiding citizen would feel an ethical obligation to report the object’s presence; I’m asking about the legal obligation only.

I doubt if there’s a general answer because (in part) it depends on how you know they are “illegal”. In the case of pirated DVDs, for example, to establish that they are pirated would depend on your knowing a whole series of facts about the ownership of intellectual property and the actual contents of the DVDs.

Same with the ‘automatic’ weapon. Many legal semi-autos can look like their full auto bretheren. Of course Cops may welcome the tip to give them probable cause to go investigate shady domiciles. (or do anonymous tips give probable cause? IANACOL.) Non flowering Tomato plants look a bit like pot, as well.

Granted it’s not always possible or easy to know what you’re seeing, but the OP still asks a valid question that isn’t answered by such nitpicks: If you do positively identify something illegal, does that oblige you to report it?

I always thought about this. I have seen an AK-74 in the back of a guys truck before. Being fully automatic or not would not matter, the magazine size alone with enough to make it unlawful to own in my state anyways. Was I obligated to tell the police about this?

Again, while you may have a strong belief that it is unlawful, you do not KNOW. For all you know, it may be a movie prop. I am not trying to quibble, but when you are talking about criminal behavior for not reporting something, there is a high burden of proof that you KNEW it was unlawful.

So let’s nip this question of knowledge in the bud as Mangetout tried to: for the purposes of this question, let us pre-suppose that the passerby can clearly and positively identify the object as contraband. We can discuss the nuances of assault weapons, botany, and piracy some other time, but I’m interested in the case where a passerby is 100% certain that possession of the object in question is unlawful (but cannot identify the owner of the object).

If you want, we can come up with a hypothetical case where red roses are illegal, and the passerby is a botany expert who can clearly identify the plants as roses with red buds. From his vantage point on the sidewalk, “Ted” notices these red roses planted among the landscaping of a business. It’s impossible to say who planted them, or when, or why, but it is unambiguous and totally clear that these are roses, and that they are red, and that they are illegal.

Unless the statute making possession of red roses illegal requires passers-by to notify the authorities in such circumstances, then no – there is no over-arching legal principle, either statutory or common law, requiring you to do so. I’ve not heard of one in American, British or Australian law, and I can think of good reasons why such a principle should not exist. I don’t believe that even police officers have a general duty to take action over “illegal things” – often they have better things to do with their time than to prosecute every little infraction of the law.

This is from an article from Angela Hayden at Cite (Sorry I do not have the proper cite). These laws are the “flip side” of Good Samaritan Laws that generally protect from civil liability bystanders who seek to help people who are in danger. As you can see most of these only relate to persons observing violent crimes, not those who witness illegal property per the OP. Obviously, one of the first pop cultural references that come to mind is the Seinfield finale.

“Currently, only four states have “good samaritan” laws that impose a general
duty to assist a crime victim or injured person, or to report a witnessed crime. See Rudy Larini, Jersey Looking to Prosecute Passivity: States Rarely Invoke “Good Samaritan” Law, THE STAR-LEDGER (Newark), Oct. 19, 1998 at 13. Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin have general duty to assist laws. See MINN. STAT. ANN. 604A.01 (West 1997); R.I. GEN. LAWS § 11-56-1 (1997); VT. STAT. ANN. tit. 12, § 519 (1997); WIS. STAT. ANN. § 940.34 (West 1997). Massachusetts and Florida require observers to report sexual assaults to authorities. See FLA. STAT. ANN. § 794.027 (West 1998); MASS. GEN. LAWS ANN. ch. 268, § 40 (West 1998). Ohio and Washington have laws that require individuals to report felonies in certain situations. See Jack Wenick, Note, Forcing Bystander to Get Involved: Case for Statute Requiring Witness to Report
Crime, 94 YALE L.J. 1787, 1803-04 (1985).”

Warning: anecdote ahead

I was once caught in a Cops-like drug raid. It’s a long, humorous, and pit-worthy story, but I’ll keep to the relevant bits (your welcome). The so-called raid on a bunch of Deadheads didn’t quite yield the giant stash of drugs they were hoping for (not many ‘heads are into coke/heroin/etc.). But they did find a Ziploc with about a half ounce of weed on the kitchen table. The relevant bit is that it was out in the open. So, all seven people in the apartment at the time–residents and guests alike–were arrested and charged with possession.

So, at least in the Bizzaro world that was/is Connecticut, you may not be mandated to report certain contraband, but in the right circumstances (or wrong, as the case may be) you can be charged.

There are no illegal objects.
Let me repeat that.

There are no illegal objects in the United States.

Anybody claiming otherwise is welcome to provide a cite. However, an object being illegal would be nonsensical. How are you supposed to get prosecuted for its possession if even the court cannot legally hold it as evidence. Nothing is illegal to have – things are illegal to have under specific circumstances. Having a fully automatic AK-74 with a huge magazine is perfectly legal in some circumstances – with the right paperwork or by the virtue of employment (military, law enforcement, gunsmith, etc.) Since you have no reasonable way of ascertaining if something is legal or not you cannot be expected to initiate any sort of action about it.

Good Samaritan laws have nothing to do with this. At most they establish a duty to assist by defining a narrow set of circumstances when you can assume your assistance is welcome.

But, being charged is not the same as being convicted. How many were convicted?

And, if a passer-by had seen the bag of dope on the table through an open door, would the passer-by have been charged with possession too?

The proper definition may be illegal pool installation, or some variant such as ‘not code compliant’, depending on the Authority Having Jurisdiction.

A few items off the top of my head are:
insufficient property line setback
insufficient separation from dwelling
lack of fencing
lack of audible warning when egress from dwelling to pool area is opened (above ground typically excepted)
lack of GFCI protection for pool power circuit
failure to obtain permit to install pool

The various defense attorneys involved were clear that we needed to take it seriously; that depending on the time/prosecutor/judge combination, this–in theory–could be pushed through on all of us. The analogy I remember was to a speeding ticket. Granted, there wasn’t a brick of coke on the table, but somewhere out there some poor shlub was paying a ticket for going just one mile above the speed limit.

Putting aside for the moment whether or not certain elements would/could be proven at trial, as we were all aware of it and had access to it, we were all in possession. I don’t believe constructive possession is quite correct, but I’m too long out of law school (and it happened about ten years before that) to remember the right construct.

One person plead guilty, the rest pled no contest. Everyone chipped in and paid his fine.

I brought it up (and warned that it was anecdotal), not to suggest that seeing = possession, but that in certain cases and jurisdictions, awareness of and proximity to an illegal item can be considered tantamount to possession. There are elements to be proven at trial (e.g., awareness of the illegality of the substance), but I was making a general point.

The point here is that it is not the official responsibility of ordinary citizens to know the details of such regulations, nor to report them. One can report suspected violations, but failure to do so is not an offense.

I think I might have one. A dead human body. I’m pretty sure you can’t have one of them just propped up on the porch swing.

:rolleyes: You maybe should go back and read groman’s post again. If dead bodies were illegal, how would hospitals, funeral homes and cemeteries be legal? All of these place handle dead bodies legally.

I suspect that “having access” is a crucial element here. A passer-by or a casual visitor would not “have access” to illegal objects lying around a house. But in the context of a party, access might be an implicit part of the situation.

So, what’s a person supposed to do when they turn up at a party, and everyone is passing around dope from the stash on the kitchen table? Presumably saying, “I like your party, but I don’t do drugs, thanks!” is not enough. But I don’t think you are obliged to tell the police: I think that just walking out without taking part would be enough.

What if your uncle was visiting and just had a heart attack sitting on the swing? Presumably there’s an obligation to dispose of the body appropriately at some time, but if you hang around and mourn for a few hours before ringing for a funeral director, after finding that he is dead past hope of revival, that’s not an offense.

But his point is that you can have one if you’re the family of the (recently) deceased, the mortuary, a training hospital, etc. etc. or else the cops would show up to every fatal accident with handcuffs for whoever they determined was in “possession” of the newly-dead body.

My counter-argument is that I can’t think of a single reason that (e.g.) a two-foot tall marijuana plant would be growing next to the topiary in the landscaping surrounding a parking lot. It seems like whoever paid for the landscaping would be liable for a possession charge – but it also seems fairly easy for them to plead ignorance (“Officer, someone must have planted it after I put the shrubs in!”).