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Al Capone was convicted of failing to file a tax return.

According to Wikipedia:

Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt recognized that mob figures publicly led lavish lifestyles yet never filed tax returns, and thus could be convicted of tax evasion without requiring hard evidence to get testimony about their other crimes.

These days, if you file late, you get penalized financially, not go to prison.

Would Al Capone's crime merit imprisonment today?

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He would still be convicted. It remains a crime to not file (26 USC § 7203), but the failure to file must be "willful," meaning that you knew you had to file and intended not to.

One of the ways that the government can demonstrated that the failure was willful is by showing that you had a large amount of income that you were trying to shield from taxation. That was the case with Al Capone, and it's still part of how they do it today.

So the IRS might go after an Al Capone criminally for filling late, but it's not as likely to do so in a case where the person is not making a ton of money. Like you said, that taxpayer would probably just get hit with a fine and warning not to make the same mistake again.

  • Wikipedia suggests he never filed. – MaxB Apr 13 '18 at 14:16
  • Went back and looked at the indictment -- looks like you're right. I'll update the answer. – bdb484 Apr 13 '18 at 15:02
  • Just an interesting side note on the source of the error. I knew that he had admitted having income in the years in question, and I always assumed that he did that by filing a return. What actually happened was that in negotiations with the IRS, his attorney sent a letter admitting to that income, which had never been reported before. So his lawyer effectively ratted him out. I'm sure there was some sort of strategy behind it, but that's a pretty crazy unforced error. – bdb484 Apr 13 '18 at 15:24
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Yes, because Al Capone wasn't late, he misreported his income. Lying on a Federal Form is illegal. The only thing that has changed is that Capone can now claim illegal income in a section of the tax form for just that purpose. This does not violate the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination as you are not speaking to any specifics of any crimes, just the total amount you netted in the Calendar year from at least one or more crimes you committed.

If Capone had reported like this, he could be free as Tax evasion was all they could get him on.

  • Wikipedia suggests he never filed. – MaxB Apr 13 '18 at 14:16

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