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What to Do If You Witness a Crime

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 11, 2015 11:59 AM

Minor crimes happen around us all the time: jaywalking, failing to stop at stop signs, drinking in public ... Chances are, you won't even think twice about ignoring these infractions. But what if you witness a serious crime involving loss of property or harm to others?

Witnessing a crime can be a frightening experience, but it can also be a chance to do the right thing. Here's what you should do if you witness a crime:

Life Duty: When You Should Call 911

If someone's health or safety is in danger, you should absolutely call 911. At this point you shouldn't be worried about solving the crime, testifying, or being called a snitch -- you should be concerned about whether someone is in physical danger or needs medical attention.

Legal Duty to Report a Crime

For the most part, civilians are not required to report a crime if they see one. However, there are certain crimes that impose a mandatory reporting requirement on certain people. For instance, if school staff, medical personnel, and even parents witness child abuse or neglect and fail to report it, they could be liable.

And if you witness people planning a crime, or know a crime is going to happen and don't report it, you could be charged with conspiracy, although these charges can be rare.

Moral Duty When No One Is Injured

Reporting a crime you've witnessed where no one was injured can be a trickier question. After all, we've all heard stories about witness intimidation, even on Facebook. You may be scared to report a crime especially if you're worried that you will have to testify at trial.

You should know, though, that you can report a crime anonymously. And in most states, you don't have to give personal identifying information, even if a police officer asks for it. At the same time, if you do report the crime and provide your personal information, you may be asked to give a deposition or be subpoenaed to testify at trial, and if you've been subpoenaed, you could face fines or jail time if you refuse to testify.

In some cases, witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. If you're wondering whether or not to report a crime, imagine what you would want witnesses to do if you were the victim. If you have questions about criminal activity that you may be implicated in, don't hesitate to contact an experienced criminal law attorney near you.

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