WITNESS to A Crime! Perhaps Murder - and Legalities?

This is a discussion on WITNESS to A Crime! Perhaps Murder - and Legalities? within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; This question is not based on any specific situation I or anyone else I know is in. Nevertheless, it is a legal question I've had ...

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Thread: WITNESS to A Crime! Perhaps Murder - and Legalities?

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    WITNESS to A Crime! Perhaps Murder - and Legalities?

    This question is not based on any specific situation I or anyone else I know is in. Nevertheless, it is a legal question I've had for a long time with no sure answer, prompted by a recent situation in my area:

    Are you obligated by Law to report a crime you witness, especially a crime you witness that makes you alone, and in secret, the only person who knows specifics of who the perpetrator is or might be. In addition, are you more obligated if the crime you witness is serial, repeated by the same perp, e.g. witness to a serial killing.

    It's not such a far-fetched question as it seems: it's the reason an organized crime or gang murder is very hard to find witnesses to, those who saw it, (or the one), are in terror of retaliation, an accurate self-assessment, and do not come forward.

    As well, for other reasons a witness may remain silent: We had a serial-killer case in my area that came close to such a situation. After 25 years a serial killer was finally found a few years back by a cold-case Detective whose action also released a mentally ill man from imprisonment of 20 years. That man was wrongly convicted of being a serial rapist, but he insisted for 20 yrs he was innocent. He was - though originally identified by 4 witnesses including some of the victims. The great finding of the Detective was that the serial rapist and serial killer who appeared later were one and the same person and that man was walking the streets and still raping and killing presently. So it could not be, or ever have been, the man in prison, who was eventually released. But Years before, during the man's rape stage before killing began, one of his victims saw his car in a mall parking lot, got the license number and called 911. Police tracked to the man who - 25 years later - would be found to be the actual rapist and killer. (the killer had a 20 year hiatus in killing until a few years ago when he began again). However, at the time the suspect's brother provided an airtight alibi: he was a mechanic and had been working on his brother's, the suspect's, car, which was completely disabled, at the time the victim was raped. It couldn't have been the suspect's car she spotted. For Police, a note but end of story.

    Recently, when the Detective began to look at old suspects of the rapes and killings, he immediately spotted this one, found the brother now living in N. Carolina and contacted him about his 20yr old story. The brother finally owned up to fabricating the whole thing - he couldn't believe his sibling was a rapist and had lied to protect him from any police mistake. With that news, the cold case Detective went after the original suspect like a hawk, and through a clever ruse got a sample of his DNA which matched out with DNA on evidence from the past killings. BINGO! No more serial killer.

    The brother, though he had lied and unknowingly allowed all of his brother's future murder victims to die, was not prosecuted.

    Not exactly the same as my witness-question but quite close.

    In any case, What is the Law on witness disclosure of a crime?
    Last edited by detective; July 27th, 2013 at 05:38 PM.

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    VIP Member Array OutWestSystems's Avatar
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    Except for some states if you are in a certain position are you required to report a crime. Like in Colorado, teachers, nurses and other medical professionals are REQUIRED to report suspected or actual child abuse, if not they can be charged with a crime. If you are not in one of those state or positions, you are not required to report anything, outside of what your moral compass would require of you.

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    You can be compelled to speak if you get a court order or a summons from a grand jury. The police cannot force you to answer questions.
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    Quote Originally Posted by OutWestSystems View Post
    Except for some states if you are in a certain position are you required to report a crime. Like in Colorado, teachers, nurses and other medical professionals are REQUIRED to report suspected or actual child abuse, if not they can be charged with a crime. If you are not in one of those state or positions, you are not required to report anything, outside of what your moral compass would require of you.
    Really ?! Even in a case where others will die if I'm silent, similar to the ball-park example of my story above? Seems really strange you don't have to....
    Last edited by detective; July 27th, 2013 at 03:38 AM.

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    Senior Member Array CanuckQue's Avatar
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    Well, remember how often you see people speeding in their cars. It's an example, but it shows we're under no obligation to report. IIRC, and this is a conversation from a defense attorney from a few months ago, in Canada you have to report child sexual abuse. I cannot think of any other examples.
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    Quote Originally Posted by CanuckQue View Post
    Well, remember how often you see people speeding in their cars. It's an example, but it shows we're under no obligation to report. IIRC, and this is a conversation from a defense attorney from a few months ago, in Canada you have to report child sexual abuse. I cannot think of any other examples.
    As a poster here pointed out, in the U.S. certain people also have to inform police about child abuse, basically teachers and medical personnel.

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    In some states you are requires to report crimes of certain levels, otherwise you are an "accessory."
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    Except for child abuse, I don't think you are obligated to report crimes, although I think you have a moral duty to do so.

    In the case you cite, detective...I would think the man could be prosecuted for lying to the police, thereby allowing his brother to continue raping and killing.
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    Senior Member Array CanuckQue's Avatar
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    Knowingly lying to the police is obstruction of justice, but might have a statue of limitations.
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    Quote Originally Posted by CanuckQue View Post
    Knowingly lying to the police is obstruction of justice, but might have a statue of limitations.
    Not in PA. You can lie to the police (except for federal agents) legally, but I would not advise actually doing it.
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    Ex Member Array detective's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeanlouise View Post
    Except for child abuse, I don't think you are obligated to report crimes, although I think you have a moral duty to do so.

    In the case you cite, detective...I would think the man could be prosecuted for lying to the police, thereby allowing his brother to continue raping and killing.
    Yes, that's the reason when he wasn't prosecuted I was surprised. I know he hadn't lied knowing his brother was a rapist, but still - his lie could not have been of more consequence: causing multiple deaths.

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    Wonder if there's some Constitutional principle involved against forcing witnesses to speak?

    Course practically, speaking if you're a silent and sole witness you are completely unknown to police, can't see how they'd ever find out.

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    VIP Member Array OutWestSystems's Avatar
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    The is a huge difference between you reporting a crime and you being asked specific question about a crime by police. You can always choose not to answer the police questions, and that is your right, lying about the crime would be a crime. Only under a few specific situations are you legally required to report a crime, but morally is a different story completely.

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    I am currently a mandatory reporter in some situations. (Health care worker) I have been a mandatory reporter in other situations and have failed to report(Poor work habits, etc.) and have reported( Nurse sexually compromised by inmate, Officer contemplating suicide) I don't think I want society as a whole under those strictures with the abuse potential inherent there in.
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    Quote Originally Posted by detective View Post
    Wonder if there's some Constitutional principle involved against forcing witnesses to speak?

    Course practically, speaking if you're a silent and sole witness you are completely unknown to police, can't see how they'd ever find out.
    I don't think so. The 5A precludes being made to testify against yourself, but it does not speak about testifying against others.
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