One for the lawyers: Accessory after the fact

So, let’s say one discovers that a person has committed a crime, one which could potentially lead to civil and criminal penalties.

Would one be required by law to come forward? Or would one be liable for criminal charges for ‘Accessory after the fact’ or some such.

And what if several persons knew of this crime, had discussed it with lawyers and therefore were aware that the person’s actions constituted a crime, and even then made a group decision to remain silent. Would that fall under ‘conspiracy’?

Say…in Illinois, maybe.

Any help is appreciated, guys.

I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on T.V. . . .

One point I’d raise: Would the ‘discoverer’ be implicated as an accessory by the discovery?

If this were the case, I’d say they’d have a pretty good argument for their 5th Amendment rights: the right to remain silent against self-incrimination.

And unless I’m wrong, priests, psychiatrists, and lawyers do yield a good measure of confidentiality in most states.

Actually, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Well, yes. I suppose that’s my question.

The persons who are aware of the ‘crime’ only became aware of it after the fact. They were not in any way a part of the crime. Their involvement consists solely of knowing that the crime took place.

To protect themselves are they required to reveal their knowledge to the authorities? And if they don’t are they on the hook for some sub-standard, state-sponsored housing?

Outside the moral implications, of course.

If not implicated, I would think that you would have to come forward. * BTW, is this purely theoretical?

~ Monica

*Feel free to discount my advise if you wish. I am not a lawyer; my law experience includes only an American Legal Systems class and an internship at a law firm.

You say “help”…are you just curious or are you looking for actual legal advice? Muy big difference, you know.

If I were looking for legal advice I’d ask a lawyer personally. This is more in the way of seeking to pool opinions and get a feel for things.

It’s not like I’d base actions on message board postings.

No offense meant, Jonathan, just obligated to ask.

At common law and absent any statute to the contrary, generally just finding out about a crime and failing to report it won’t make one an accessory after the fact; one has to take some affirmative action, say in hiding evidence or helping the criminal escape (“quick, take this gun”). You may remember from the news a few years ago when two college students were in a Vegas casino, and one sexually assaulted and strangled a young girl in a restroom. He then came out and told his friend, who did nothing but drink and gamble for the rest of the night. Despite public outrage at his “not my problem” attitude, nothing could be done to the friend under Nevada law at that time. I believe Nevada and several other states discussed (and my have passed) statutes to abrogate the common law and change this situation.

I’ll try to explain a little more in depth after work and get to your other questions, if some of the more experienced legal dopers haven’t beaten me to it.

pravnik is right. Accessory after the fact accountability, or concealing a fugitive both require an affirmative act, whether it’s hiding or disposing of evidence, lying to the police, etc.

Example: Your friend says to you “I just killed someone. Let me wash my clothes in your house.” If you help him, you are an accessory after the fact.

Example: Your friend says to you “I killed someone.” If you do nothing, you are not an accessory, because you didn’t do any act to further the crime or hinder the wheels of justice.

One case was where the defendant in the accessory after the fact crime, gave an accurate description of the murdur suspect to the police. He neglected to tell them that the suspect was his cousin. The court said that, since he didn’t give false answers to the police, he was not an accessory after the fact.

The fact that it was discussed by a committee, who decided not to come forward, does not change anything, so long as none of them help conceal the crime, or partake of the fruits of the crime.

Thanks, guys. I appreciate it.

It’s a sticky point isn’t it?

Does ‘partaking of fruits of the crime’ fall under the ‘knowing he’s got the cash and accepting gifts and such’ area?

If someone tells me he committed a crime and I say nothing, couldn’t I be considered to be assisting him in escaping capture?

No. You need to actively do something to make it easier for him or harder for the cops.

Is it possible to inadvertenly be an accessory?

Hypothetical example [sub](stay with me here)[/sub]: Say a guy holds up a bank, and throws all the loot into two paper grocery bags. He runs out the door and into, say, a laundromat where he yells “Hey, hold that door!”. A typical red-cheeked Boy Scout just happens to see that he’s got his arms full, opens the door and holds it for him, allowing him inside, thus essentially hiding the perpetrator and the escape route. It would be harder for the cops if nobody saw him go inside. [sub](I told you it was a stretch.)[/sub]

Also, can you explain an “affirmitive defense” and “passive defense”?

Like I said, I only play a lawyer on TV.

Well, Abe has discussed the fine legal points. But from an ethical standpoint if you have information about a crime and are not restricted by professional obligation (priest, lawyer) then you are certainly guilty of something, IMHO.

What would be the distinction between accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice?

The following is NOT legal advice in any way, shape, or form: IAAL in Georgia, and in the great state of GA, a person is a party to a crime if he aids, abets, or helps anyone to commit a crime. You can even get a jury instruction that knowledge of a crime, even when it is coupled with approval of the crime, does not amount to participation.

 For example, if you see someone shoplift something, and you don't go screaming to the manager or someone about it, it doesn't make you guilty of shoplifting, or guilty of being an accessory after the fact. Only if you actually help the person in some way, like standing in front of him so security won't see him, or if you lie about which direction he was headed, can you be charged.  In GA.  YMMV.  

 Again, no legal advice intended.  Hope I've adequately covered my ass in that regard.