When is it a Crime to Encourage Someone Not to Report a Crime?
Not surprisingly, it is a crime to dissuade someone from testifying against you in court. In addition, the law states that “every person who attempts to prevent or dissuade someone who has been the victim of a crime or who is witness to a crime from making any report of that victimization to a peace officer is also guilty of a public offense.”
What if the Crime Has Not Been Completed?
In People v. Reyes, Mr. Reyes was a public defender facing charges for dissuading a victim from calling the police if her son violated the domestic violence restraining order she had against him. Instead, Mr. Reyes advised the victim to call him rather than the police should her son be at her home or near her home. The court then had to consider whether the law should apply only to the dissuasion of reports about completed crimes or if the law should be construed more broadly to encompass future crimes as well.
As Mr. Reyes points out in his argument, the law refers to the dissuasion of someone who has been the victim of a crime or who is a witness to a crime from making any report of that victimization. Despite the fact that the victim’s son, in this case, participated in ongoing abuse of the victim, the conduct at issue under the law is that of Mr. Reyes. Mr. Reyes did not carry out an ongoing effort to dissuade reporting of a past crime. Rather, on one occasion, he may have asked the victim to call him instead of police officers should a future crime occur. Given the ambiguity of the statute, the court struggled with its decision but ultimately recognized that statutory ambiguity “must be resolved in favor of lenity, giving the defendant the benefit of every reasonable doubt on questions of interpretation.” The court granted Mr. Reyes’ motion to dismiss because the State was unable to prove that Mr. Reyes actually violated the law by dissuading the victim from reporting future crimes.
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