Misprision of felony

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Misprision of felony is an offence under the common law of England that is no longer active in many common law countries. Where it was or is active, it is classified as a misdemeanour.[1] It consists of failing to report knowledge of a felony to the appropriate authorities. Exceptions were made for close family members of the felon[2] and where the disclosure would tend to incriminate him of that offence or another.[3]

With the development of the modern law, this crime has been discarded in many jurisdictions, and is generally only applied against persons placed in a special position of authority or responsibility. In this case, the offence of misfeasance in public office or malfeasance in public office may be considered instead. For example, corrections officers who stand idly by while drug trafficking occurs within the prison may be prosecuted for this crime.[4]

It has been abolished in England and Wales and in Scotland (as part of the criminal law reforms that abolished the distinction between misdemeanour and felony),[5] in Australia,[6] Ireland[7] and in Northern Ireland,[8] but has often been replaced by a statutory offence.

United States federal law

"Misprision of felony" is still an offense under United States federal law after being codified in 1909 under 18 U.S.C. § 4:

Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This offense, however, requires active concealment of a known felony rather than merely failing to report it.[9]

If one knows that one is a target of a federal investigation, it is illegal under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to erase one's browser history intentionally. Khairullozhan Matanov was prosecuted for erasing computer records about his friends, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev; he pleaded guilty to a lesser included offense in 2015.[10][11]

The federal misprision of felony statute is usually used only in prosecutions against defendants who have a special duty to report a crime, such as a government official.[12]

See also

References

  1. ^ Sykes v. Director of Public Prosecutions [1962] A.C. 582
  2. ^ Watson, Mark (August 30, 2012). "Compounding a felony and settling criminal offences". Blog. Lexology.com (a source of International Legal Updates, Analysis, & a Searchable Archive containing more than 730,000 articles). Corker Binning. Retrieved August 6, 2018. Misprision of felony was an offence under the common law...classified as a misdemeanour. It consisted of failing to report knowledge of a felony to the appropriate authorities and no payment was required. Exceptions were made for close family members of the felon.
  3. ^ R v. King [1965] 1 All ER 1053
  4. ^ O'Hagan, Andrew; Hardwick, Rachel (September 14, 2017). "Behind Bars: The Truth about Drugs in Prisons" (PDF). Corrupt prison staff. Forensic Research & Criminology International Journal. MedCrave. 5 (3): 4. doi:10.15406/frcij.2017.05.00158. Retrieved August 6, 2018. [In 2013, in Lebanon], inmates and prison staff were charged for allegedly forming and operating a drug trafficking ring in...prison. The staff involved included guards, officers and a doctor who provided each other cover whilst distributing the drugs to inmates...day staff were searched around once a year and night staff were never searched.
  5. ^ The Criminal Law Act 1967 (c.58), section 1
  6. ^ The Crimes Act 1900, section 341 [1]
  7. ^ The Criminal Law Act 1997 (No.14), section 3
  8. ^ The Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 (c.18) (N.I.), section 1
  9. ^ See United States v. Johnson, 546 F.2d 1225 (5th Cir. 1977) at 1227 ("The mere failure to report a felony is not sufficient to constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 4."
  10. ^ Devries, Juliana (June 2, 2015). "You can be prosecuted for clearing your browser history". The Nation. Archived from the original on June 13, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  11. ^ Krotor (pseudonym) (June 8, 2015). "Clear your browser history and spend 20 years in prison". Daily Kos. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  12. ^ Smith, Jeff (April 7, 2014). "Chris Christie Is Toast: Federal prosecutors have their teeth in the New Jersey governor's close associates. And they ain't letting go". Politico. Retrieved April 8, 2014.

Other sources

  • Curenton, The Past, Present, and Future of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 4: An Exploration of the Federal Misprision of Felony Statute, (2003) Vol. 55 Alabama Law Review, 183.
  • U.S. Code Online via GPO Access (wais.access.gpo.gov) United States Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter I, Section 4

Further reading

  • For a discussion of the appellant's defence and the decision in Sykes above, see P.R.Glazebrook, Misprision of Felony - Shadow or Phantom, The American Journal of Legal History, Volume 8, No.3 (July 1964) pp. 189 – 208, Temple University JSTOR
  • For a general discussion of this offence from an American viewpoint, see William Lawrence Clark, A Treatise on the Law of Crimes, Hein, 1996, para. 439 pp. 679 – 680 [2]
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