Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Safety Propositions: Responding to Crime

I love criminal law. Don't ask me why, but I do. Maybe it's the study of human deviance that really attracts me. I've always been a very respectful person and the audacity of criminals often shocks me. Hopefully a crime in my presence will jolt me into action rather than inaction....

I'm not a law enforcement officer and I'm not trained to arrest people, but I dislike criminals.

Minnesota has a very liberal citizen's arrest law (Dunnell's Minnesota Digest is a good source for a more in depth discussion).

I am a (highly) responsible citizen and an officer of the court.

If a crime occurred in my presence, I would (as far as prudent) interdict the criminal act and/or make the criminal take flight and protect the innocent. At the very least, I could call for help on my cell phone and observe the crime so I could testify as to what happened later.

We all have different tolerances for danger and no two incidents are alike, so you'll have to make your own judgments, but if nothing else, you can go to police and report what you saw.

One doesn't have to know the law to be a witness, but to make a lawful arrest, you must know the law. You could theoretically be sued for wrongful arrest, but fear of litigation should not make us immune to the suffering of others, such as the notorious Kitty Genovese case where dozens of people heard a woman being stabbed to death in New York City but didn't want to get involved and a young woman died.

Failure to prevent or prosecute crime is arguably illegal under an old doctrine called misprision.

[M]isprision is almost never prosecuted, and to the few U.S. lawyers who even know the term, misprision is virtually a dead crime.

The crime is nonetheless far from obsolete in Anglo-American law... In Australia in 1959, for example, the Victoria Supreme Court upheld the misprision conviction of a man who knew who shot him but refused to tell the police. In England in 1961, the House of Lords upheld the similar conviction of a man who had discovered an arms theft at a U.S. Air Force base but failed to report it. In the U.S., says Goldberg, misprision of felony is a perfectly viable common-law charge in Vermont, a statutory offense in Maine, and a 176-year-old federal crime (U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 4 ), which is punishable by a $500 fine and up to three years' imprisonment.Time


18 USC 4 (2007) is misprision of felony. "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."

I first read about misprision during the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Michael Fortier knew of the plans for the Oklahoma City bombings but did not warn authorities was charged with misprision of felony.

Misprision has largely fallen into desuetude.

Desuetude is when a law is not enforced or dormant. Sometimes laws are merely unenforced, but other times they are reclassified and not decriminalized at all.

The crime of mayhem, for instance was a felony at common law, punishable by death.

Mayhem (at common law) was amputating someone else's body parts leaving one less able to defend him or herself, such as eye-gouging or hand-chopping. Mayhem still exists in a few jurisdictions, but modern legal codes typically criminalize mayhem under a different name or concept.

But some things are totally decriminalized, like possession of a crossbow. During the middle ages, crossbows were so effective against cavalry that the Pope banned them. Now you can own them, but you still cannot hunt with them in many jurisdictions. (Many jurisdictions don't even allow hunting deer with a 5.56mm NATO round or smaller. It kills humans reasonably well, but isn't enough gun for a deer or larger animal.)

I wonder if the Brady Campaign would go after my crossbow if they ever managed to ban my handgun... would they leave me unarmed among the lawless?

At least I'd still have my pepper spray....

2 comments:

dr said...

Dude, I have committed any number of crimes in your presence and you never leaped into action.

Neal R. Axton (USA) said...

This seems like a good time to invoke my fifth amendment right...