Are You Legally Obligated to Report a Crime?

If you're unlucky enough to witness a violent crime or find out a friend or relative is involved, do you report it? If you choose not to, is it a crime? Let's take a look at whether it's illegal not to report criminal activity.

What Is a Crime?

To understand why it's important to report a crime, let's look at what constitutes a crime. By basic definition, a crime is an action or omission that is against the law and punishable through the justice system.

Crimes are always against the law, but not all of them are civil wrongs. Assault is an example of a combination while jaywalking is a crime but not a civil wrong. Another example is money: stealing money from someone is a crime but not paying them back is a civil wrongdoing.

That said, reporting civil wrongdoing won't get you very far since questionable slights aren't punishable by a judge. However, crimes, especially felonies, are very serious and very prosecutable.

There are several "classes" of crimes:

  • Infractions: double parking or littering
  • Misdemeanors: low-grade theft like shoplifting or driving drunk (first offense with no fatalities)
  • Felonies: homicide, assault and battery, domestic violence, theft of high-value items/assets
  • Capitol crimes: treason, terrorism, trafficking, genocide, and murder for hire

As you might guess, infractions and misdemeanors usually have less severe punishments. At the same time, felonies and especially capital offenses can result in life in prison or even the death penalty in some states. So, does that mean that you should only report felonies? Let's take a look.

When Failure to Report a Crime IS a Crime

Some states have "failure to report" laws. In Texas, failing to report a violent crime or homicide is a misdemeanor. These laws are rare, and only a handful of states have them. However, the bigger concern is not the misdemeanor for failure to report but accessory charges.

"Accessory" means aiding and abetting someone in the process of committing a crime. Being an accessory to a crime is a far more serious accusation since it means you actively covered up the criminal act, concealed it, or helped the perpetrators avoid capture by police.

Mandatory reporting laws exist to prevent aiding and abetting, and protect victims. Often, these laws apply specifically to teachers and healthcare workers who work with children and may witness signs of abuse. It is their responsibility to report possible abuse and protect the child from further violence.

So, is not reporting a crime a violation of the law?


Reporting a crime can remove you from the possibility of being charged with accessory after the fact, but it's not always necessary if the act isn't criminal. Some states have failed to report laws, but most have mandatory reporting laws for teachers and healthcare workers to report child abuse.

If you are accused of accessory after the fact, speak to our lawyer immediately. Schedule a consultation with Shane Phelps Law. today!

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