Your friend calls you and asks if they can stay at your place for a night or two. You don’t hesitate to tell them yes, but then the next day, the police swarm your property and draw guns as they search your home looking for your friend. You didn’t know that your friend was in trouble, but you get arrested too and are now face charges of harboring a fugitive. What happens now?
Unfortunately, this exact situation is more common than you might think, and it leaves innocent people facing a lot of trouble. Harboring a fugitive is a serious crime, even if you didn’t know that you were committing such an act. That’s why it is vital that you have an experienced attorney on your side that can help create the strongest defense strategy for your case.
What is Harboring a Fugitive?
State and federal laws define harboring a fugitive as knowingly hiding a criminal from law enforcement officials. Essentially the crime is committed when one individual has committed a crime and escapes from being arrested or punished while being protected by another individual. This crime may also apply when a person being hidden after escaping prison.
The person being accused of harboring or protecting a fugitive may not have committed the underlying crime with the fugitive but protecting a person that is facing charges can result in both federal and state level charges and consequences.
Charges for Harboring a Fugitive
In order to prove that a person was harboring a fugitive, the prosecutor must establish the following:
Punishment for these charges may include jail time, steep fines, or a combination of the two. If the fugitive was facing felony charges, the person may face even steeper penalties. If a person is accused of harboring an escaped prisoner, they may face a fine up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
Harboring a Fugitive Defenses
One of the best defenses to harboring a fugitive is that the accused withdrew their support from the fugitive. The evidence will need to be clear cut. One way to show this is if the accused alerted authorities as to the location of the fugitive.
Another defense that may be used is if it was a qualified family member that was being harbored. Florida is one of a handful of states that exempts the family members of a fugitive from prosecution. A family member includes parent, spouse, grandparent, child, or grandchild. These family members may avoid facing charges if they were protecting a fugitive from being arrested by authorities. Federal law does not allow this same exemption.