Well before the current "stop snitching" fad, Texas legislators had already decided that people who didn't report serious violent felonies deserved to be prosecuted. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports ("Police: Man didn't report beating," Aug. 25) Tarrant County man has been charged with:
failing to report a felony, a relatively new and rarely used Class A misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Enacted in 2003, the law makes it a crime to not tell law enforcement about a felony involving serious bodily injury or death.I'd forgotten all about that bill, and don't think I've heard of a case actually brought under it before. Recalling it in the context of today's "stop snitching" debates I find it interesting on several levels, not the least of which is that the "act" of not coming forward, at least regarding specific crimes, has been criminalized in Texas. I wonder if that's the case in other states? Any readers who know, help me out on this one.
Second, I wonder if a "witness" simply not telling should be a crime? If that person themself is involved, then they are an accomplice and partially culpable. But if a witness does not report a violent crime for whatever reason - out of fear, familial loyalty, or any number of motives - I think there may be unintended consequences that haven't been fully considered if such folks are subsequently prosecuted. Will this threat compel more people to come forward, or will it cause them to band together with the criminals in view of their common carceral threat from the DA?
Finally, I can't help but recall that we learned recently from Congressional testimony in Washington D.C. that the FBI does not always report "serious violent felonies" committed by their informants to state or local law enforcement. Does this mean FBI agents who do that in Texas are committing a crime? And who is responsible for prosecuting that omission?
What's good for the goose is good for the gander. There are a lot of reasons people don't volunteer to become a witness, from the neighbor fearful for their safety to the FBI agent who fears exposing an informant. Prosecuting an omission, a failure to act, is a tricky business. Indeed, it seems like we already have enough crimes actually committed without prosecuting too many folks whose sin is to do nothing.