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What is the Crime of Harboring a Runaway Child?

Children run away from home all the time. We see their faces looking out from posters which hang on bulletin boards in government buildings or grocery stores. Many children are abducted, but older teens especially often run from home. Many of them are being abused and seeking safety.

Under Penal Code Section 25.06, harboring a runaway child is a crime in Texas. You could face serious time in jail if convicted, so please understand your obligations under the law, and call Tad Nelson & Associates to talk directly with a Galveston criminal defense attorney. We can review whether the evidence against you is strong or whether you can mount a credible defense to these charges.

What is the Crime of Harboring a Runaway?

Section 25.06 defines harboring a runaway as:

  1. knowingly harboring a child, and
  2. being criminally negligent about whether the child is younger than 18 and has left home without parental consent or escaped from police custody.

As you can see, there are two different elements with two different mental states. First, you must knowingly take in the child. That element is met if you invite them into your home or know they are camping out on your property. It wouldn’t apply if someone snuck into your garage and was living there without your knowledge.

Second, you must be at least criminally negligent about whether the child has left home without an intent to return or has escaped from custody. You don’t have to “know” those facts. But you must act as a reasonably careful person would. A careful person would want to know if a minor had permission to leave home or was on the run from the law. If you don’t try to find out, then this element is probably met.

Penalties for a Conviction

This is a Class A misdemeanor, which is the most serious misdemeanor offense. If convicted, you can spend up to one year in jail and pay a maximum $4,000 fine. You will also have a criminal record, which can pop up going forward.

Defending Against the Charges

The law actually lays out some defenses you can use:

  • You are closely related to the child. For example, you might be a sibling or grandparent. The law states you can raise that relationship as a defense.
  • You notified the child’s home within 24 hours of discovering they left without permission. So if you bring a child into your home, you can avoid prosecution if you call the parents within a day.
  • You notified law enforcement within 24 hours of discovering the child has escaped from custody.

These are statutory defenses spelled out in the law. You might have other defenses:

  • As mentioned above, you might not have the appropriate mental state. If you didn’t know the child was on your property, you can’t be convicted.
  • You might not have had any reason to think a child escaped custody. For example, it might not have been reported in the media.
  • You might have reasonably assumed the child was 18 or older. For example, your daughter might have invited some friends to stay with you over the summer. Your daughter is in college, so you assume her friends are in college, too. They all wear college sweatshirts, and you have no idea one is 17 and running away from home.

These are fact-intensive cases, which rely heavily on what you knew and when you knew it. If you suspect a child has run away, you should inquire about it.

What Should You Do if You Suspect Abuse?

This is a problem that pops up regularly with these cases. Maybe you know a child through church or school, and the child trusts you. They are being abused or threatened at home and they want to get away. They might show up at your doorstep after running away, and you take them in so they aren’t spending the night on the street. What do you do?

Morally, you are doing the right thing by providing shelter to an endangered child. Legally, however, you could still be breaking the law. This is a tough situation—especially if you suspect the abuse is happening.

We recommend you call the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 1-800-252-5400. Remember, if you are a close relative, then you might have a legal defense.

Call Our Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer

Our legal team can help answer your questions about this confusing area of law. Please call us today to schedule a time to meet, either in person or over the phone.