Most people view the criminal justice system as a protector of crime victims' rights. This perception comes from the number of crimes that have victims. If you or someone you know has experienced crime, it's easy to personalize it this way. Clearly, the most serious crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, and burglary, have individual victims.
It may surprise most people to know that there are many crimes where there is no individual victim. To the extent there is a "victim" in such crimes, the victim is society as a whole or the legal system. And while the criminal justice system does seek to safeguard victims' rights, its purpose is to provide justice for all, protecting the rights of everyone.
Crimes against justice are generally crimes without individual victims. In these criminal offenses, the conduct is often directed at the legal system or those serving it. The legal system can include the courts, governing bodies, and public officials (such as lawmakers and police officers). Crimes against justice often involve disorderly or disrespectful conduct that questions the authority of the legal system or seeks to defraud the government. Crimes here include perjury, contempt of court, or fleeing from justice. These crimes carry similar consequences and penalties as other crimes, including the possibility of jail, prison, fines, and costs. Below you will find more information on crimes against justice.
Crimes Involving a Failure To Perform A Duty
Many crimes against justice focus on a failure to perform a duty or function consistent with a person's legal obligations. In some states, all persons must report the commission of a felony crime to law enforcement. In several states, it's a crime if you fail to help law enforcement officers. In most states, it is a crime to fail to report child abuse or neglect when you are a mandated reporter.
State laws vary on failure to report crimes. Some states, like Ohio, make it a misdemeanor crime if you know that a felony crime is taking place and you do not report it to law enforcement. Other states may focus on whether the felony crime at issue resulted in serious physical harm or death.
In New York and other states, it is a crime to fail to help a police officer. To prove this misdemeanor offense, the state must show that a person failed to provide help when:
- an identifiable peace officer or police officer;
- demanded or commanded them to help in the arrest or prevention of a crime; and
- they unreasonably refused to provide the help requested.
In Florida, state law makes it clear that the citizen's duty to assist includes helping catch a person who was lawfully arrested and has escaped.
Failure to make a mandatory report of child abuse or neglect can also lead to criminal charges. In Arizona, this crime is a misdemeanor under most circumstances. If the mandated reporter has a reasonable belief that the offender engaged in certain serious crimes, failing to report may be a felony offense. Serious crimes may include incest or child sex crime. In Florida, any knowing and willful failure to report child abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a mandated reporter is a third-degree felony charge. Florida law also provides for a fine of $1 million against any Florida College System institution that fails to report. When school administrators learn of child abuse committed on university property or at a university function, they must report it. This fine applies to each incident.
Several states also have an offense known as "neglect of duty" or "dereliction of duty." In Michigan, this offense requires the state to prove that a public officer or official willfully neglected to perform a lawful duty of his office. If convicted, the offender can get up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. In Ohio, a similar offense singles out law enforcement officers. If an officer, through their negligence, fails to serve a lawful warrant or fails to prevent or halt the commission of an offense, they can face a misdemeanor charge.
In federal law, the offense of "misprision of felony" addresses when a citizen has a duty to report felony conduct as well. The law states:
"Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."
The misprision offense requires the government to prove the following elements related to the conduct of the person charged:
- A principal offender committed and completed a felony offense;
- The person charged had direct knowledge of the crime;
- The person charged failed to tell law enforcement authorities; and
- The person charged took an affirmative act to conceal the felony crime
Sometimes a crime against justice occurs after sentencing by the court. When issuing a sentence in a criminal case, a judge may suspend jail time and order the offender to serve a period of time on probation. In a similar way, after serving a prison sentence, an offender may get released on parole. In both situations, the court orders the offender to follow all laws and to complete certain programs or conditions of their sentence. If the probationer violates the terms of their probation, they fail to uphold the duty or condition of the suspended sentence.
A person can violate their probation or parole in various ways. They may fail to report a change of address to the probation officer or commit a new crime while still on probation. They may fail to pass or fail to submit to a drug test. They may not make restitution to a victim.
The probation or parole officer files the probation or parole violation charge. The court will schedule the matter for a court hearing. There is no entitlement to a jury. The judge will hear the evidence and decide the matter. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence and not beyond a reasonable doubt.
Crimes Involving Falsification
Oftentimes, a large-scale criminal investigation may involve interviews with several individuals. This can occur before the State brings criminal charges. Lesser-known players may face charges of falsification. They may later cooperate with the state to prosecute the target suspects of the case.
Criminal cases involving falsification can vary under federal and state law. They may include misdemeanor and felony crimes. These laws may focus on falsification in areas where federal or state authorities need truthful information to perform a government function.
The crime of perjury exists at the state and federal levels. A common definition of perjury includes when a person:
- With the intent to deceive and knowledge of a statement's meaning;
- Makes a false statement under oath;
- During or in connection with an official proceeding;
- And the statement is material (would have an effect on the outcome).
Federal and state crimes will often classify perjury as a felony offense. This subjects an offender to a federal or state prison sentence. Perjury charges may occur when a person lies under oath in an affidavit associated with an official government hearing or criminal case. It may also happen when someone lies under oath to a grand jury or at a trial.
Other common falsification cases include when a person makes a false report to police or a false report of child abuse or neglect.
Crimes Involving Obstruction of Justice
The federal and state governments also prosecute offenders for the crime of obstructing justice. Crimes in this area usually involve the offender taking some affirmative action to interfere with or prevent law enforcement or government actors from carrying out their duties.
The crime of obstructing justice may include any of the following acts designed to prevent the discovery, arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of a specific crime by another person:
- Harbor or conceal the person who committed the crime
- Warn the person who committed the crime of discovery or arrest
- Destroy or conceal evidence of the crime
- Provide the person who committed the crime with the means to avoid discovery or arrest
- Provide false information to assist the person who committed the crime
- Prevent or obstruct someone from doing some act that will lead to the discovery or arrest of the person who committed the crime
Often, obstruction of justice will be a felony if the underlying crime is also a felony. It will be a misdemeanor if the underlying crime is a misdemeanor.
The related crime of tampering with evidence also exists at the federal and state levels. Tampering with evidence is generally a felony offense. It does not require a verbal statement. The focus of a tampering charge is the offender's conduct. The law prohibits conduct that seeks to hide, conceal, alter, or destroy evidence with an intent to prevent or damage its use in a criminal investigation or proceeding.
Other crimes in this area include intimidation of a witness or retaliation against a witness. The offender seeks to undermine the justice system by causing witnesses to either not appear in court or to recant previous testimony. Crimes that involve witness tampering often occur in felony cases where the offender fears a prison sentence.
In a more immediate way, someone may commit the crime of resisting arrest to avoid justice and prevent apprehension for a crime. This crime happens when the offender recklessly resists a lawful arrest with force. It may be a misdemeanor in most circumstances. If the force rises to an assault on a police officer or in any way makes use of a deadly weapon, the crime may then become a felony.
Sometimes to avoid justice, an offender either refuses to follow the signal or command of a police officer or escapes the officer's custody The charge of failing to comply usually occurs during an attempted traffic stop. The police observe a traffic infraction. This gives them probable cause to stop the driver of the motor vehicle. When the driver flees the stop, the police may give chase. If the incident ends quickly with no significant harm, it may be a misdemeanor crime. If the incident involves a high-speed chase and causes a risk of harm to people or property, it will likely be a felony.
The crime of escape can occur any time an offender knows they are under detention by law enforcement and they break detention and fail to return to custody. This crime most often gets filed as a felony offense. Depending on the offender's underlying arrest or conviction record, this crime raises public safety concerns. The police department will notify the public of the escape. It will give a description of the suspect with the goal of recovering the offender before any new crime occurs.
Sometimes a crime against justice occurs in the criminal proceeding itself. A person on trial refuses to follow court rules and shouts down a witness against them. A family member at a sentencing hearing charges the defendant. These situations may lead to a criminal contempt of court citation. Although rare, the criminal contempt charge allows the judge to keep order in the courtroom and to keep the case proceeding in a fair and impartial manner.
Consider Talking to a Criminal Defense Attorney
Anyone who is facing a crime against justice charge, no matter how minor, will benefit from consulting a local criminal defense lawyer. Even if the lawyer is not retained to provide representation in court, seeking legal advice can help a criminal defendant understand the nature of the charges filed, available defenses, what plea bargains are likely to be offered, and what is likely to happen in the event of conviction. A skilled criminal defense attorney can identify important pretrial issues and bring appropriate motions that can lead to a just result.