Does Your Spouse Have to “Rat” You Out?

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Running for 52 episodes beginning in 2010, Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? explored real-life stories of brides who were oblivious to the dark secrets of their new husbands. The unsuspecting bride would marry her one true love believing that she was everything she could ever want in a partner, only to find out that he had successfully kept his “real self” hidden from her view. After discovering her spouse’s “other side” and having been afforded the opportunity to tell her side of the story, many of these women were eager to do so.
Suppose your own partner comes home one night later than usual with clothes that appear to be soaked with blood. He or she is evasive when you ask him or her where he or she has been and what he or she has been up to. What legal obligation do you have to report your suspicions to law enforcement?

Penalties for Not Reporting a Crime

Criminal law punishes affirmative, guilty actions that are committed with a guilty mind (referred to as the actus reus and the mens rea, respectively). With very few exceptions, the law does not impose any legal liability or consequences – whether civil or criminal in nature – on an individual who does not actually commit an act.
In the context of reporting a crime, these principles mean that you do not commit a crime and cannot be found guilty of a crime simply for failing to report a crime. This is true whether you actually witnessed a crime being committed or whether you simply observe something suspicious and believe a crime might have been committed. Even when the person who committed or who you suspect of committing a crime is your own spouse, it is not a crime for you to refrain from voluntarily telling the police, but it would be a crime to lie to the police or provide false information when directly asked.
Sometimes law enforcement officers will use heavy-handed tactics and may make veiled threats about prosecuting you if they believe you have information about a crime but are hesitant or unwilling to talk with officers. Rest assured, though, that simply witnessing a crime or suspecting one was committed and refusing to talk about it with law enforcement officers is not a crime.

It IS a Crime if You are Involved and Fail to Report It

The general principles noted above do not apply if you are somehow connected to the criminal activity beyond merely witnessing it. If you conspire with another person to commit a crime and carry out a step toward completing that crime, or if you aid and abet another person in committing a crime, reporting the crime to police may be one of the only ways you can reduce or eliminate your criminal culpability. Covering up the crime or attempting to conceal it from law enforcement can be an additional criminal offense.
If you do decide to speak with police, whether to give a statement as a witness or as a potential accomplice wanting to absolve themselves, it never hurts to have a criminal defense attorney by your side to ensure your legal rights are protected. If you are concerned about the potential consequences you may face for your involvement (however minimal) in criminal activity, contact the law firm of David R. Price, Jr., P.A. today by calling, or contact the South Carolina criminal defense law firm of David R. Price, Jr., P.A. online.  


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