Misprision of felony is when a person is aware a felony, but fails to report the crime to authorities. Most states do not hold misprision of felony in their criminal justice systems due to the harshness of the sentence. If charged, sentences can consist of a fine and up to three years in prison. Instead, failure to report a known felony to authorities is covered by other laws, such as accomplice liability.
In order to be convicted of misprision of felony, the court must prove the following:
- A completed felony exists
- The defendant knew about the felony
- The defendant failed to notify authorities
- The defendant took steps to conceal the felony
Concealment includes making false statements, hiding evidence, and harboring the felon. Judges rely on jury’s to decide if concealment took place in a misprision case.
Mostly, misprision only exists in states that adopted the common law through a statute or in their constitutions. A few states outline their own misprision-related laws as well. Prosecutions are extremely rare even if a state includes a misprision clause.
Courts also must prove the defendant has an "evil motive" in hiding the felony. Simply ignoring the crime is not enough to prosecute. An example of this would be Commonwealth v. Lopes, 1945. The defendant found a missing child’s body while he was having an affair. He did not report the body to authorities for fear his indiscretion would be discovered. The court held he should not be convicted of misprision of felony since he did not have malicious intent in hiding the information.
The Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination is the main reason conviction of misprision of felony is so difficult. Most people will not report a witnessed crime to authorities for fear they will be charged. For this reason, most accomplices cannot be prosecuted.
Seeking Legal Help
If you are aware that a felony has taken place and are unsure if you are legally required to report the crime, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer. If you have been charged with the criminal offense of failing to report a felony, you will definitely need the assistance of a lawyer to represent your case.