What Will Happen to Me If I Aid or Assist a Fugitive?
Many of us have faced a situation where a family member or friend is accused of a serious crime. Your first instinct may be to offer help. After all, if you believe the person is not guilty, you want to do everything you can to help them avoid possible jail time.
But there is a critical difference between offering moral or legal support. You can help them find a qualified Collin County criminal defense lawyer. You can’t help them hide from law enforcement. Such acts may be considered aiding or abetting a fugitive under Texas and federal law. You may sometimes be charged as an accessory to the underlying crime.
Federal and State Laws Punish “Harboring”
In Texas, the law that criminalizes harboring a fugitive is called Hindering Apprehension or Prosecution. This very broad state law could subject a person to criminal charges if they harbor, conceal, provide, or aid in providing a person with the means of avoiding arrest or effecting escape; or even warns someone of impending discovery or apprehension. This law could even land parents in legal trouble if the person they are “harboring” is their own child. Hindering Apprehension or Prosecution is a Class A misdemeanor. This is true unless the harbored person is wanted for a felony. In this case, it is a Third-Degree Felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
At the federal level, specifically, enumerated offenses apply to “fugitives for justice.” In this context, a “fugitive” is normally defined as someone subject to a court-issued arrest warrant. This is different than someone who may merely be under suspicion of a crime by the police. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1071, anyone who “harbors or conceals” a person to prevent their “discovery and arrest” is guilty of a crime.
If the fugitive’s alleged offense is a misdemeanor, the penalty for harboring them is no more than one year in jail. Anyone who helps a fugitive charged with a felony could face up to 5 years in prison. The judge may also impose a fine for a harboring conviction.
What the Prosecution Must do to Prove Harboring
You are not guilty of harboring just because you provide aid or assistance to someone charged with a crime. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over federal criminal cases in Texas. Harboring requires the prosecution to prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- the defendant knew that there was an outstanding federal arrest warrant issued for the fugitive;
- the defendant committed one or more “physical acts” designed to help the fugitive avoid detection and arrest; and
- the defendant’s actions were expressly “intended to prevent the fugitive’s discovery.”
The first and third elements–knowledge of an arrest warrant and intent–are often the most important when defending against a harboring charge. Say your brother asks you for the keys to your car. You think nothing of this since he regularly borrows your car. You are not guilty of harboring if he robs a bank and uses the car to flee Texas. This is because you did not know that he committed a crime. Therefore you lacked knowledge of any arrest warrant. You never intended to help prevent his capture by the police.
As for the second element–a physical act–the Fifth Circuit has said that merely failing to disclose a fugitive’s location or providing “financial assistance” does not constitute harboring as defined by the law. But if the police come to your home looking for a fugitive and you lock him in the basement to conceal him, that would fulfill the “physical act” requirement.
Challenging a Sentence or Conviction for Aiding a Fugitive
Challenging sentences or convictions in Collin County criminal cases is difficult but not impossible. Here are a few ways we can help in these situations:
- Identifying Trial Errors: Errors made during your trial can be grounds for an appeal. These errors include prosecutorial misconduct, such as withholding crucial evidence or biased juror selection. Furthermore, trial courts sometimes make mistakes like admitting improper evidence or denying critical pre-trial motions.
- Asserting Your Rights: Every defendant has the right to a speedy trial. If the courts violated this right, it could serve as valid grounds to contest the conviction. Moreover, appeals can address issues like failing to merge related convictions for sentencing.
- Navigating Post-Conviction Proceedings: Sometimes new evidence emerges after your trial. This evidence might show a violation of your fundamental rights or even prove your innocence. Examples include new data disputing forensic evidence, another person confessing to the crime, or evidence of police/prosecutorial misconduct. Your attorney can use this in post-conviction proceedings to reevaluate the case outcome and request appropriate action.
- Challenging Ineffective Counsel: You deserve effective legal representation. If your lawyer didn’t diligently investigate, failed to present strong arguments, or didn’t communicate with you effectively, it could be grounds for a new trial.
- Leveraging New Evidence: Even long after your verdict, you can challenge your conviction with new exculpatory evidence. For example, if there’s evidence showcasing police or prosecutorial misconduct, it can give the court a reason to reconsider your case.
With the experience of a firm like Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian, you have a strong ally to navigate these legal channels, ensuring you get your best shot at justice.
Do You Need Advice From a Collin County Criminal Lawyer?
Texas prosecutors often use the threat of harboring, aiding, and abetting charges to force family members or associates to testify against the principal. That is why if you know someone who has been arrested or charged with a serious crime and fear the prosecution may target you next, it is important to seek advice from the experienced McKinney criminal defense attorneys at Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian. Call us today at (972) 369-0577.