Harboring a fugitive means that someone is helping them to hide out or escape detection by law enforcement. It's generally illegal to do this with knowledge about the crime and an intent to hide the fugitive from the law. The exact penalties vary from state to state but if convicted, a person who harbored a fugitive could receive a minimum one-year prison sentence and fines.
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 someone of harboring a fugitive, the prosecution must prove that the supposed fugitive committed a crime, that person who hid the fugitive knew about the crime and that the person's intention was to help the fugitive 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.
Read More: What Is a Fugitive Warrant?
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 someone helped committed a felony, the person may also be charged with a felony, while if the suspect committed a misdemeanor, the person harboring them may be charged with a misdemeanor.
Harboring a Terrorist
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 aircraft, 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.
Harboring Runaway Children
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 the person helping the juvenile had reason to believe he 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 a close relative. 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.
- Oncle: North Carolina General Statutes § 14-259 Harboring or aiding certain persons
- Justia: 2010 Maryland Code § 9-402. Harboring fugitive
- Fordham Law School: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties
- Iowa Code: Chapter 710 Kidnapping and Related Offenses
- Massachusetts Laws: Chapter 119, Section 63A
- Legal Information Institute: 18 U.S. Code § 2339 - Harboring or Concealing Terrorists
- Iowa Code: Section 903
- Nolo: What is criminal obstruction?
Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."