If someone you know has committed a crime, you may want to help them evade arrest, but trying to help your friend may get you in hot water, too. Typically, it is a crime to hide a fugitive, help him escape or otherwise avoid apprehension. You could be penalized with a range of punishments for your actions.
State Laws Vary
State criminal laws vary and so do the elements and punishments for hindering the apprehension of a fugitive. If you have questions about what you are allowed to do, you must check your state's laws to determine whether your actions are illegal. However, state laws on hindering apprehension are generally broad, meaning that most activities that help a fugitive delay or avoid arrest or prosecution are illegal. Hindering apprehension is typically considered a misdemeanor offense, but it can be considered a felony, particularly if the fugitive you are helping committed a felony.
Jail Time and Fines
The range of punishments available for those who hinder apprehension also varies by state and by the type of crime the fugitive committed, but available penalties generally include jail time and fines. For example, Texas prosecutors commonly charge such crimes as Class A misdemeanors, which means you could face a maximum of a year in jail and $4,000 in fines, if convicted. However, prosecutors could charge you with a felony, increasing the fine and jail time possibilities.
It is not illegal to accidentally help a fugitive. To be convicted of hindering apprehension, you generally must have taken some action to deliberately help him evade arrest. For example, if a fugitive hides in your basement without your knowledge, you are probably not guilty of hindering apprehension. However, if you leave the keys to your house where you know he will find them, you could be held responsible. It is generally a crime to harbor or conceal a fugitive, warn him that he is about to be arrested or prevent someone else from doing something that might help law enforcement catch the fugitive. You also cannot legally provide a fugitive with money, transportation, weapons, disguises or with any other assistance to avoid being discovered.
Even if you are charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, you might not be convicted. For example, you could try to show the court that you did not know your actions were helping the fugitive or that you did not know he was a fugitive at the time. Many states, like Texas and Missouri, provide specific defenses for those who warn a fugitive in connection with an effort to bring him into custody. Thus, a police officer who tells a suspect to turn himself in because other officers are searching for him likely will not be found guilty of hindering apprehension.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.