Even if you are not the one who pulled the trigger or committed the crime, you can still get in trouble for helping a suspect avoid the police. Laws against harboring a fugitive are in place to ensure that friends of criminals do not get in the way of law enforcement doing their jobs. The exact penalties, as well as the exceptions to the laws, vary from state to state.
Harboring a Fugitive Overview
It is generally illegal to provide protection or a place to hide to a person who is either avoiding law enforcement because he committed a crime or because he escaped from police custody. To convict you of harboring a fugitive, the prosecution must prove that the person you protected committed a crime, that you knew about the crime and that your intention was to help him hide from law enforcement. Some state laws use other terms to refer to harboring a fugitive, such as aiding a criminal, obstruction of justice, or acting as an accessory after the fact. For example, in Massachusetts harboring a fugitive may be considered acting as an accessory after the fact. These crimes may not only include harboring the fugitive, but also lying to the police or helping destroy evidence.
Penalties for Harboring a Fugitive
The penalties for harboring a fugitive vary by state. For example, it is considered a misdemeanor and punishable by up to a year in prison in Maryland. By contrast, in North Carolina, if the suspect you are harboring committed a felony, you may also be charged with a felony, while if the suspect committed a misdemeanor, you may be charged with a misdemeanor.
Harboring a terrorist is a more serious crime, punishable under federal law. An individual may be considered a terrorist if he is charged with destructing or attempting to destruct aircrafts, aircraft facilities, government property, energy facilities, maritime navigation or nuclear facilities. Terrorism may also include the use of, or the planned use of, weapons of mass destruction or biological weapons. Harboring a terrorist is punishable by a fine, up to 10 years in prison or both.
Many states also penalize individuals who provide protection or shelter to runaway children, including youth who have either run away from home or custody of the court. Depending on the laws of the state, harboring a runaway child may be charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in in prison and a fine. Other states, such as Iowa, classify this crime as an aggravated misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine up to $6,250. Additionally, in states such as Massachusetts, it is a defense to this crime if you had reason to believe that the juvenile would be subject to physical or sexual violence if he returned home.
Exceptions for the Law
One exception to the law against harboring fugitives is if the individual is a victim of domestic violence, which allows individuals or shelters to take in victims even if they have a warrant out for their arrests. Additionally, in 14 states, including Wisconsin and Nevada, it is not illegal to harbor a fugitive if the individual is closely related to you. This exception typically only applies to immediate family members, spouses, grandparents and grandchildren. Additionally, in states such as Florida, this exception does not apply if the crime committed involved abuse, neglect or the murder of a child.