Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

What to Do If a Family Member Is Involved in Crime

Try as we might, no person is perfect. And some of those non-perfect people are our family members. This leaves us non-criminal family members with some tough choices to make. Does a daughter need drug therapy? Should you call the cops on your cousin? Is it time to consult with a lawyer?

Here are just a few of the legal considerations you should keep in mind if you've got a family member who is in involved in criminal activity.

Lend a Hand

Drug addiction and the criminal convictions that could go hand-in-hand with addiction are serious issues. Despite some states relaxing their drug laws, drug possession penalties remain harsh and drug addiction can turn deadly.

You can find substance abuse resources in every state, at both the private and public level. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can locate treatment centers near you. Hopefully, a family member battling with addiction can find help before it turns into a more serious criminal matter.

Liability

Unfortunately, family members may not be able to just throw their hands up and say, "that's their problem." In certain cases, you could be liable for the crimes your family members commit. Most of this criminal responsibility is placed on parents, and it can cover a wide range of criminal activity:

  • Parental liability for gun crimes: Parents who break gun storage laws and fail to secure a firearm could be guilty of a crime if a minor uses that firearm to commit a crime or injure or kill someone;
  • Parental liability for truancy: Missing school excessively is a crime, and parents whose children skip school too much can be charged with truancy-related crimes;
  • Parental liability for bullying: Under some state laws, parents can be criminally liable of failing to supervise or control their children, which could place them on the hook if their child is a bully; and
  • Parental liability for underage DUI: Depending on their knowledge and involvement with the underage drinking, parents could be charged with crime if their child commits a drunk driving offence while the child is still underage.

But criminal liability isn't limited to parents. If you're living with a family member, you could be liable for their drug dealing.

And these are just the ways you could be unintentionally liable for a crime. If you intend to help a family member you know is involved in criminal activity, there is a whole host of crimes you could be charged with yourself.

Even if you're not present when the crime itself is committed, if you have knowledge of the crime before or after the fact, and assist at all in its commission through any advice, actions, or financial support, you could be charged with aiding and abetting the crime or as an accessory to the crime. And in most cases, an accomplice faces the same punishment as the person who committed the crime.

The last thing you want to do is agree to commit a crime with a family member. Conspiracy liability can extend to everyone who knew about the plan and intended to break the law, even if the person didn't participate, and even if the crime itself isn't committed. Not only that, but you can be charged with conspiracy and the underlying crime, which doubles your criminal liability.

Legal Obligations

While there is a lot you're not supposed to do if a family member is committing criminal acts, there's a lot you may need to do. This part isn't easy -- no one wants to get a family member in trouble -- but there are times when you might have to.

For the most part, civilians do not have to report a crime if they see one. But, as demonstrated above, there are certain cases where a person's failure to report a crime could be seen as complicity or even conspiracy. Additionally, some states require reporting of certain crimes, even when the person is not involved. For instance, many states require anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected to report it to the police, and failure to report could be a crime in itself.

Whether required to or not, calling the cops on a family member can be heartbreaking, if not potentially dangerous. You can choose to report a crime anonymously or even silently via an app.

Lawyer Up

Finally, if a family member is involved in crime, he or she will likely need the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. There's a lot a criminal defense lawyer can do that the average person can't, like properly assessing a case, negotiating with prosecutors, helping with a criminal trial, and handling appeals or expungement.

Even if it's only a misdemeanor charge and even if your family member is going to plead guilty, he or she will want to consult with an attorney.

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