If a friend or family member shows up at your door and asks to stay for a few days, you’ll most likely say yes. But what happens if the police arrive and demand to know the current location of your new guest because they’re wanted for a serious crime? Can you get into legal trouble? Harboring a fugitive in Florida is a crime that can lead to severe financial and legal consequences, and you’ll need to know your rights to mount a successful defense.
Who is a Fugitive?
A fugitive is a person who is facing prosecution or punishment for a crime and is attempting to evade law enforcement. Generally, the fugitive has charges against them or a warrant out for their arrest, and they are trying to avoid being taken into custody by the police. They may have fled after being questioned about a case or failed to attend a hearing after getting a bench warrant. Individuals who have escaped from jail or prison are also considered fugitives.
Some fugitives may be desperate or dangerous, especially if they have committed a serious crime, and face significant consequences if arrested. Helping these individuals can be hazardous and may put you or your family in physical danger, not to mention the legal ramifications you can face for harboring a fugitive.
What Does It Mean To Be Accused of Harboring a Fugitive?
It’s not always clear if someone is a fugitive. They may appear as a friend or family member asking for cash, transportation, or a place to stay for a while. To be charged with harboring a fugitive, you must be aware that they are attempting to evade justice and provide them with some variety of aid, such as:
- A vehicle or actual transportation to another location
- Any assistance that could help them avoid law enforcement
Knowledge and intent are crucial factors in an accusation of harboring a fugitive. Simply providing help to someone is not enough to warrant a criminal charge. The prosecutor must prove that you knew the individual had escaped from custody or had a warrant out for their arrest.
What Consequences Could You Face?
It is critical to get professional legal help if you have been charged with harboring a fugitive since the penalties for this crime are severe. The consequences for a conviction vary depending on the details of the case and whether you are facing state or federal charges or both.
Under Florida statutes, a person who knowingly harbors a fugitive is guilty of a third-degree felony. If convicted, you could face up to five years in prison and a $5000 fine.
You could also be charged with Accessory After the Fact if you aided a fugitive who committed a felony. The penalties for Accessory After the Fact are based on the severity of the original felony charge because it is a derivative crime. In most cases, the penalties for this crime are two levels lower than the original felony offense level committed by the fugitive, as assigned by Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.
In addition to state charges, you could be charged with a federal offense if the fugitive has a federal arrest warrant or escaped after a conviction for a federal crime. The exact penalties for this crime are based on the circumstances of the case but can be as much as ten years in prison, with thousands of dollars in fines.
What Are Your Defense Options if You’ve Been Accused of Harboring a Fugitive?
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you defend yourself from the charge of harboring a fugitive. In these cases, it is vital to remember that the burden of proof falls on the prosecution to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the following facts are true:
- The person you harbored had a warrant out for their arrest or had escaped from custody.
- You knew the individual was a fugitive from justice.
- You took specific steps to aid the fugitive.
- You acted with the intent to help the fugitive avoid arrest by the authorities.
If you assisted a fugitive and only found out later that they were on the run from the law, you still may be able to defend yourself from charges. Options include showing that you stopped helping them once you found out about their warrant or proving you took steps to help in their capture, such as informing the police of their whereabouts. You may also be acquitted if you can show that you acted out of fear for your safety due to threats made by the fugitive.
Florida Harboring a Fugitive Exemption for Close Family Members
Florida is one of a few states that grant an exemption to prosecution for harboring a fugitive if the individual who was harbored was a qualifying close family member. This means the state can’t charge you if you protect your spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or grandchild from apprehension by the authorities.
However, this rule does not apply if the fugitive is accused of certain crimes, such as murdering a minor or committing child abuse. It’s also important to note that federal law does not grant this exemption, so you could still potentially face federal charges.
How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Assist with Your Case?
It can be scary and frustrating when your kind-hearted attempts to help a friend or family member result in criminal charges. However, it’s important to remember that the prosecution only has a valid case if you knew the person you were helping was a fugitive. You also cannot be charged under Florida state law for harboring a close family member in most cases, regardless of whether or not you knew about their warrants.
Our skilled defense lawyers at George Reres Law, P.A. can help if you have questions about a harboring a fugitive charge. Call our Fort Lauderdale law firm at 954-543-1186 to learn more.