Crime is a fact of life in Houston, and most people spend time thinking of ways to avoid becoming a victim. But did you know that in some situations you are legally obligated to report criminal activity? And if you don’t, you could end up facing time in jail for refusal to comply? Believe it or not, that is the law in Texas. It is a crime to fail to report some crimes to the police.
Houston criminal defense attorney Tad Nelson can answer any questions you have about whether you are obligated to call. Below, we explain some relevant Texas laws in more depth.
Failure to Report a Felony
Texas Penal Code § 38.171 makes it a crime to fail to immediately report a felony you observe, if a reasonable person would believe the victim would suffer death or serious bodily injury and you don’t have reason to believe it has already been reported. This requirement only applies if you can immediately report it without putting yourself in danger.
For example, you might have seen from your apartment window someone stab another person on the sidewalk. You should immediately call the police, because you can see that the victim would suffer serious injury and you are in a safe place so reporting does not put you at risk.
By contrast, you don’t have to report if someone starts shooting in your workplace and you are hiding underneath a desk to protect yourself. You would only need to report once the danger has passed.
Similarly, you might see someone steal items from another person’s car. Because this isn’t a felony that will result in death or bodily injury, so there isn’t a duty to report. You might call the police just to be a good citizen, but there isn’t a legal duty under this section of the Penal Code.
A violation of the failure to report a felony is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by a maximum $4,000 in fines and a year in jail.
Failure to Report Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
Section 38.17 of the Penal Code also requires that you try to stop or immediately report to the police any attempted or completed aggravated sexual assault of a child victim. Again, the law only applies if you can help the child or report the crime without subjecting yourself to serious bodily harm.
Technically, your duty to report only kicks in if offender is trying to do either of the following:
- Commits continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14
- Assaults a child under 14
Continuous sexual assault can involve two or more incidents in a 30-day period of indecency with a child, sexual performance of a child, or kidnapping with the intent to commit sexual abuse.
You might not know how old the victim is, so you should nonetheless report any suspected sexual abuse or assault if you think the person is underage. That will protect yourself.
This is also a Class A misdemeanor if convicted.
Under Texas Family Code § 261.101, any person who suspects a child is being abused or neglected shall report their suspicions to the appropriate authorities. You can call the police or the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Professionals with a license from the state must make a report within 48 hours. You cannot rely on someone else to make the report for you. Professionals include doctors, nurses, teachers, daycare staff, and any employee of a clinic or health care facility.
Many professionals are unsure of their reporting obligations. You should have received training on proper reporting procedures when you started your job, but if not, you should reach out to a criminal defense attorney for advice. There is a very short window to comply with your reporting requirements under the law.
Any knowing failure to make a required report is a Class A misdemeanor. As mentioned above, this obligation to report applies to members of the public as well.
Stay on the Good Side of the Law
Reporting criminal activity protects public safety. Police can respond quickly and apprehend a suspect. Although some people don’t want to get involved, the reality is that we can reduce crime by promptly reporting illegal activity to the proper authorities.
People who fail to report are sometimes suspected of participating or aiding and abetting. You can protect yourself by picking up the phone. And please call Tad Nelson & Associates if you need help defending yourself from criminal charges.