Can You Be Arrested in California for Failing to Report a Crime?

Have you ever witnessed a crime and wondered if you had a legal duty to report it to police?  What if you learned about a crime that had just been committed or heard about a crime that was about to be committed?  Does the law require that you report this information as well?  What if your report would put you or your family in danger?

Duty of Witnesses to Report Crime

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Since 1999, the law in California has recognized a limited duty to report violent crimes perpetrated against victims that are 14-years-old or younger.  California penal code 152.3 applies to those who witness the commission of a murder, rape, or lewd conduct against a child under the age of 14, and requires that these witnesses report such offenses to a peace officer.  The failure to report under these circumstances is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to six months in county jail and a $1500 fine.

The law recognizes exceptions to the duty report, which seek to preserve certain privileged relationships.  Thus, the law does not require a witness to report a crime perpetrated by a spouse, child, brother, sister, grandparent, or grandchild.

There was significant debate in California regarding the duty to of witnesses to report crimes after the horrifying gang rape of a 15-year-old girl during a homecoming dance at Richmond High School in 2009.  The violent assault continued in view of dozens of bystanders for over two hours before someone finally called police and ended the attack.  In the years since the rape, six men have been convicted of various sex-related offenses stemming from the attack.  The last of the defendants was sentenced in April 2014.

In the aftermath of the crime, police and members of the public expressed frustration over the fact that no charges could be brought against the many witnesses who stood by without calling police and allowed the attack to continue, simply because the duty to report did not extend to bystanders who witnessed crimes against a 15-year-old victim.

Mandatory Reporting Laws

Some people in California have a duty to report crimes even if they did not witness the crimes themselves.  California’s Mandatory Reporting Laws require that certain professionals, including

  • Teachers and other school officials,
  • Law enforcement,
  • Medical professionals,
  • Social workers,
  • Therapists,
  • Clergy, and
  • Firefighters, report instances of child abuse and neglect.

The crimes covered by the mandatory reporting laws include sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, child endangerment, and neglect of a child.

Failure to report under this statute is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to six months in county jail and a fine of $1000.  Willfully preventing someone from filing a mandatory report is punishable by up to one-year in county jail and a $5000 fine.

Aiding & Abetting A Crime

California Penal Code 31 makes it a crime to aid or abet someone else in the commission of a crime.  Aiding and abetting is more than merely witnessing or hearing of a crime.  This offense requires that the defendant also:

  • knew the perpetrator’s illegal plan;

  • intentionally encouraged or facilitated that pan; and

  • aided, promoted or instigated in the crime’s commission.

Aiding and abetting offenses are commonly charged when a defendant acted as a lookout or get-away-driver for the principal offenders. Prosecutors might also charge someone with accessory after the fact under penal code 32, if he or she engaged in conduct such as knowingly sheltering the principal offender after the offense.


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I have a real estate license and I have witnessed an unlicensed person getting involved in licensed real estate activities. Do I have an obligation to report that to the Bureau of Real Estate or to the local authorities?

Hi Mike: It’s unclear from your question whether the person you are referencing has committed a crime to which the mandated reporter laws apply. The answer is that it depends on the circumstances as well as the state in which you practice.

California. Business and Professions Code. I watched someone without a real estate license performing acts requiring one.

Having just viewed the confirmation hearing of Judge Kavanaugh, it was ascertained that Calif Senator Diane Feinstein had information from Dr Ford that Dr Ford claimed she was sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh. In the state it was claimed to have happened there is no statute of limitations for ‘attempted rape”, and it is a felony. Was Sen Feinstein in violation of the bystander law by not reporting that crime to the proper authorities?

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