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Rob approaches Bob and offers him a job: to commit a certain specific crime. Bob rejects.

Question 1: At this point, does Bob have any legal duty/obligation to report Rob to law enforcement authorities?

Some time later Bob finds out that the crime he was offered to commit has been committed by someone. Apparently, someone has accepted Rob's offer, or Rob has committed it himself.

Question 2: Now, does Bob have any legal duty to report Rob?

Question 3: If the answer to Question 1 is "yes" and Bob did not report back then, does the fact that the crime has been committed make Bob's inaction a more serious offence? Would Bob get any discounts for that offence if he reports Rob after the crime?

(Any jurisdiction).

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  • Might be a different answer in different states - presuming the U.S. Aug 11, 2020 at 5:39
  • @GeorgeWhite which makes it even more interesting to know the differences.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 11, 2020 at 6:10
  • To be clear: is Rob trying to hire Bob, or offering to work for Bob?
    – DJohnM
    Aug 11, 2020 at 12:38
  • @DJohnM Rob is trying to hire Bob.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 11, 2020 at 12:41

4 Answers 4

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In the , generally there is no duty to report crime. There are circumstances where there is a duty to report suspicious activity or 'knowledge' or 'suspicion' of a crime. These include:

  • financing of terrorism

  • money laundering or dealing in other proceeds of crime (criminal property) or fraud in a regulated sector (e.g. solicitors, accountants, insolvency practitioners, finance, gambling)

(unless the information comes to the person in 'privileged circumstances')

In respect of such circumstances, as soon as Bob 'knows' or 'suspects' Rob is engaged in such behaviour Bob must report this to the authorities and must not tell Rob about it (the offence of 'tipping off'). Bob commits an offence if he doesn't report it. In terms of failure to report money laundering that could lead to a maximum of five years in prison and/or a fine.

Depending on the circumstances an additional risk of failure to report is being perceived to have participated in the commission of the crime.

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Under federal law, the only offense for which this is the case is treason. The pertinent statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2382, states:

Misprision of treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States and having knowledge of the commission of any treason against them, conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President or to some judge of the United States, or to the governor or to some judge or justice of a particular State, is guilty of misprision of treason and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than seven years, or both.

Under the vast majority of U.S. state laws there is no duty to report an imminent crime, unless (1) Bob has some other involvement with Rob that makes him part of a criminal conspiracy, or (2) Bob has some relationship to the target of the crime that imposes a reporting duty upon him (e.g. Bob is a social worker for the target who is a child, or Bob is a prison guard and the target is a prison inmate).

A handful of U.S. states have a duty to report certain crimes while they are being committed and after these crimes (usually selected felonies) are committed, if the person committing them is known. I believe that Texas is one of them.

I am not aware of any U.S. state that requires reporting of a crime imminently about to be committed, although in that circumstance, some people who otherwise have a duty of confidentiality, like psychotherapists and attorneys, are permitted but not required to report the imminent crime.

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In Germany there is no general duty to report planned crimes. However, paragraph 138 of the StGB makes exceptions to this for certain serious crimes (eg murder, treason, robbery). If Bob learns that someone is planning such a crime and it is still early enough that reporting it could lead to the planned crime being prevented, then it is a crime for Bob not to report it.

So if Rob tries to hire Bob to murder Peter, then as long as Bob would reasonably believe that Rob's plan to murder Peter is still in place, Bob is required to report this to the police. As soon as Rob actually kills Peter, the requirement ends (and now Bob is definitely guilty of a crime himself, and faces up to 5 years in jail). On the other hand, if Bob reasonably believed that Rob was just making a joke in bad taste when offering the murder contract, and only realizes that Rob was serious once Peter is dead, there is no obligation to report.

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Under English law, Bob is under no legal obligation to report the approach or the alleged crime, but it could well be said that he has a moral duty.

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