Is it illegal not to report a crime?
Last updated at 7:24 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 13
ANCHORAGE — A recent case in the Valley where Alaska State Troopers said a sexual assault was captured on a cell phone is raising the question of whether it’s legal to watch a crime and not report it.
John Skidmore, the director of the Criminal Division of the Alaska Department of Law, said that with a few exceptions, you could be charged with a crime if you fail to report it. According to Alaska statutes, a person who witnesses a violent assault of any kind against a child — rape, attempted murder, murder, kidnapping, or serious physical injury — could face up to 30 days in jail. If a person fails to report those crimes against another adult, the witness would get a citation and could have to pay a fine.
As for recording a crime, Skidmore said that in and of itself is not illegal, especially if the witness is simply a bystander. But if the person recording the scene is part of the action or encouraging the crime so that it can be recorded, they could face criminal charges.
“The classic example would be some sort of party or a gathering of friends and one friend starts to do something that’s inappropriate,” Skidmore explained. “And another friend pulls out their phone cause they think it’s funny and now they are egging that person on, encouraging them to do it so this thing can be captured on video, that person is now an accomplice.”
Skidmore said sharing or posting a video of a crime is usually legal unless it involves child pornography. But, he says, deleting a video from your phone or feed can cause problems, depending on your intent.
“If you had a copy of a video and you just decided, ‘I don’t want that, it’s taking up space on my phone,’ it’s not a crime to get rid of that. But if you do it with the purpose of keeping it from law enforcement, that’s called tampering with physical evidence,” said Skidmore.
Skidmore cautioned that every case is different and should be considered individually, so it’s difficult to generalize. He said situations that would not generate criminal charges could be subject to a civil lawsuit.
But the bigger question, he suggested, may not be whether something is legal but whether it’s ethical not to report something you’ve seen.
“You have a concern that someone’s been hurt, you have a concern that a crime may have occurred, you have information that may help the police solve it,” said Skidmore.
AS 11.16.110 is an Alaska statute that explains the legal accountability of a witness based upon the conduct of another person, including the witness’ solicitation of the other person’s criminal behavior.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that it is not a crime to witness a violent crime and not report it. The story has been amended.