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This is a question out of curiosity only, indirectly inspired by my last question post. I'm wondering at what point not reporting a crime is itself a crime.

I know that if someone happens to witness a bar fight and doesn't immediately call the cops they are not guilty of a crime (or I assume they aren't, unless they're technically guilty and simply never prosecuted for it). This implies that the refusal to report a crime is not, by itself, a crime.

However, I'm also pretty sure if, for example, a women knows her boyfriend is sexually assaulting their child and turns a blind eye to it she can be convicted as an accomplice to the crime. Likewise, I think if you're riding in the car with someone who does a hit and run you are required to report it or be an accomplice.

So I'm wondering where this line is drawn. At what point does one's involvement become such that they are guilty simply for failing to report another individual, assuming they have not actively done anything to directly support the crime otherwise?

Furthermore, if someone is indirectly benefiting from a crime they do not encourage or facilitate – for instance a wife getting a new fur coat after her husband robs a bank despite her not approving of the husband's actions – does this make her an accomplice? Is there a line here to draw, presumably a bar serving a drink to someone they know is a bookie doesn't make them guilty, even if the bookie presumably earned the money he is using to buy the drink via an illegal job?

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  • To be an accomplice, one must be in league with the other person. A bystander is not an accomplice.
    – Cicero
    Nov 22, 2018 at 16:32

4 Answers 4

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TL;DR

Never; unless there is a specific law in the jurisdiction that requires it, however, that is a separate crime, it doesn't make you an accomplice to the first crime.

There is no general obligation to report a crime; some jurisdictions may have legislated to make reporting mandatory, either generally or for specific professions.

Accomplice

From the link, an accomplice is:

One who knowingly, voluntarily, and with common intent unites with the principal offender in the commission of a crime. One who is in some way concerned or associated in commission of crime; partaker of guilt; one who aids or assists, or is an Accessory. One who is guilty of complicity in crime charged, either by being present and aiding or abetting in it, or having advised and encouraged it, though absent from place when it was committed, though mere presence, Acquiescence, or silence, in the absence of a duty to act, is not enough, no matter how reprehensible it may be, to constitute one an accomplice. One is liable as an accomplice to the crime of another if he or she gave assistance or encouragement or failed to perform a legal duty to prevent it with the intent thereby to promote or facilitate commission of the crime.

Mandatory Reporting

Many jurisdictions impose an obligation on certain professions to report suspected crimes. The most common and obvious being a police officer who generally has an obligation to report all suspected crimes. Other professions include doctors, teachers, nurses etc. in the case of suspected child abuse; sometimes this extends to elder abuse but usually doesn't include an obligation to report spousal abuse.

If a person with such an obligation fails to report, they have not become an accomplice to the original crime or any future crime; they have broken a different law on their own.

General consequences

In general, a witness to a crime is not required to report it. They could be asked to give a statement but are not obliged to and would not be subject to arrest. If they were subpoenaed to appear in court as a witness then they would be obliged to do so and give evidence; failure to do either would be contempt of court.

To be clear, a perpetrator of a crime is also not obliged to report it and is protected from contempt by rules about self-incrimination like the US Fifth Amendment. As an aside, NSW, Australia has recently passed a law that while maintaining the accused's right not to testify has allowed juries and judges to draw inference from the silence in their deliberations.

Specific Laws

Some jurisdictions have specific laws that make it a crime not to report. For example, in New South Wales, Australia Section 316 of the Crimes Act makes it an offence to conceal a serious indictable offence (i.e. one with a maximum penalty or 5 or more years gaol) that a person "knows or believes" has occurred without "reasonable excuse". The punishment is up to 2 years; if you solicit or accept any benefit for concealing it, the punishment is 5 years. Prosecution for people who came by the information as a result of practicing certain professions requires permission of the Attorney General.

Privilege

A person may become aware of a crime through disclosure as part of a professional-client relationship. Such disclosures may be subject to privilege.

At common law, only the lawyer-client relationship is legally privileged meaning that a lawyer cannot disclose what their client has said to them. This does not cover advice on committing or covering up a crime - if a lawyer does this there is no privilege and the lawyer may become an accomplice.

Closely related is the litigation privilege where communications prepared as part of litigation (including criminal prosecutions) are protected even if they are not between the lawyer and the client.

Some jurisdictions have statutorily extended this privilege to other relationships: doctor-patient, priest-confessor, pastor-parishioner, accountant-client, psychologist-patient etc. Check your local guides.

Your examples

  1. The bar fight witness has no obligation to report and is not an accomplice. In NSW, this is the crime of affray, a serious indictable offence, and must be reported.
  2. The mother of the child has no obligation to report and, unless she is assisting or encouraging the commission of the sexual assault, is not an accomplice. Further, spousal testimonial privilege does not apply; i.e. the mother could be compelled to give evidence against the boyfriend or face contempt. In NSW, this is the crime of Sexual intercourse-child under 10, a serious indictable offence, and must be reported.
  3. The passenger has no obligation to report and is not an accomplice. In NSW, this is the crime of failing to stop and assist after vehicle impact causing death or grievous bodily harm, a serious indictable offence, and must be reported.

Sub-questions

At what point does one's involvement become such that they are guilty simply for failing to report another individual, assuming they have not actively done anything to directly support the crime otherwise?

At the point where the person moves from being a witness to a participant by assisting or encouraging the perpetrator.

... if someone is indirectly benefiting from a crime they do not encourage or facilitate, ..., does this make them an accomplice?

No, however, if the person knows that the benefit are the proceeds of crime then they could be charged with receiving stolen property and would not have good title in the property even if they didn't know.

presumably a bar serving a drink to someone they know is a bookie doesn't make them guilty, even if the bookie presumably earned the money he is using to buy the drink via an illegal job?

It depends if they know the money is the proceeds of crime; if they do then receiving it is a crime in its own right but it doesn't make them an accomplice.

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  • You address an example that a passenger in a hit-and-run has no obligation, yet later suggest that assisting or encouraging makes one an accomplice -- where exactly is the line drawn? How could a reasonable person be a front-side passenger involved in a hit-and-run, yet continue contact with the perpetrator without reporting, not viewed as an encouragement?
    – cnst
    Sep 16, 2015 at 8:07
  • 3
    The mother has a duty to product the child therefore by not doing so is committing a crime. Sep 16, 2015 at 12:40
  • In the UK not report sex abuse of a child is often a crime, the same is true of some other crime. Sep 16, 2015 at 12:40
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    @grovkin a suspicious financial transaction is not necessarily a crime. Further the obligation is on the financial institution, not the individual. That is, reporting is a condition of employment not a legal obligation for the employee
    – Dale M
    Sep 7, 2020 at 21:04
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    @dsollen: Typically, the crime of receiving stolen goods occurs when someone accepts transfer of property AND they would have reasonably known that the property was stolen at the time of accepting that property. 1st amendment protects freedom of association, which means that you can friendly with someone you know is involved in criminal activity and so long as you yourself are not involved, you are not obligated to talk to the police.
    – hszmv
    Feb 27, 2023 at 12:24
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In most states in the Unites States there is no affirmative duty, the failure to report crimes, unless you're a certain class of persons. However, there are a minority of states that do have affirmative failure to report laws that can impose criminal penalty on ANYONE who fails to report certain types of crimes.

I know that in Ohio it is a crime to not report a felony, a murder/dead body...here is a link to that statute.

In Texas, it is a class A misdemeanor to fail to report a crime giving rise to bodily injury if you see it happen, have reason to believe it's not been reported and can do so without risking injury to yourself. Here is a link to that statute.

There has been recent increase in discussion in state legislatures about this very issue, with more states debating the wisdom of enacting such laws. So, you may have an affirmative duty, if not now, sometime in the future!

While I won't go into mandatory reporting since @daleM covered that in his answer, I wanted to comment on a parent's duty to protect their child from abuse. Many states have begun enacting "failure to protect" laws, whereby a parent who knows another parent (or sibling/domestic partner - anyone who lives in the home) is abusing their child has an affirmative duty to protect the abuse from occurring, and failure to do so often carries the same penalties as the actual abuser faces. In states that don't have actual failure to protect laws it has long been held that a parent who allows their child to be systematically abused without leaving or reporting can be found guilty of criminal negligence. While at first blush this seems like an obviously good thing, in fact it often serves to victimize other victims of abuse. Furthermore, most domestic related murders occur after an arrest of the abuser or after a restraining order is issued.

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A problem arises when one has a "duty of care". That would be the case of a mother not reporting the abuse of her child by her boyfriend, because a mother has a "duty of care" to her child.

In other instances, there is no "duty of care", hence, no obligation to report.

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    Even in the case of "duty of care", there is not necessarily a duty to report, but just a duty to protect the child. If the mother finds a different way to protect the child (e.g. by preventing contact with the abuser), that may be sufficient. Depends on jurisdiction, of course...
    – sleske
    Nov 7, 2016 at 9:45
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Common Intent, or helping in the commission of the crime, is required for finding that one is an accomplice. Therefore refusal to report a crime has nothing to do with being an accomplice to a crime whereas common intent is key.

Remember that Police lie, they are allowed to, and encourage each other to. I don't mean this in a pejorative sense, I mean in in fact.

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