If you’re a lawyer, there are great advantages to understanding criminal law. After all, a defense attorney should have an intimate knowledge of criminal law if they plan on helping their clients – for them, it’s part of their everyday business.
But what about people who aren’t lawyers, people who are simply interested in the law? What possible advantages are there to knowing criminal law?
Well, we’re not going to tell you that understanding criminal law issues in the United States is going to help you get away with stealing your neighbor’s TV. But what we are going to tell you is that a fundamental understanding of criminal law is crucial if you want to avoid unnecessary legal entanglements and other problems that come as a result of your ignorance of the law. And to help make sure you never get arrested for someone else’s crime, we’re going to teach you exactly how to avoid being a criminal now and for the rest of your life.
Avoiding Mistaken Identity
One of the most important ways to ensure that you’re never arrested for someone else’s crime is to be able to prove your identity. Criminals can often be experts at using identity against innocent bystanders – for example, they are capable of committing identity theft and making it look as though you were somewhere you’ve never been.
That’s why it’s so crucial that you’re always able to establish your identity. For example, make sure that you always drive with your driver’s license and vehicle registration – no exceptions. If you’ve rented a car, make sure that you keep all of the paperwork saying you’ve rented the car in the glove compartment, or some other secure place.
In some cases, you might be accused of a crime simply because you fit a certain description. To avoid the troubles in these cases, make sure that you’re always able to establish alibis – third parties that can verify the fact that you weren’t out committing crimes within a certain time frame.
We understand that it’s not possible to always think about your alibi, but if you think about your regular routine, try to remember the type of people who can verify your location far from the scene of any potential crime.
Avoid “Participatory” Offenses
In some cases, you can be arrested for a crime simply because you helped the criminal in one way or another. These are known as “participatory” offenses, and the punishment for these crimes can often rival the actual crimes themselves.
Suffice it to say, you should never be involved in any criminal act – that’s just common sense. But if you know someone close to you that is thinking about committing a crime, your failure to prevent the crime or to report the crime could be construed as evidence against you.
Don’t let your prior relationships dictate how you behave. If you have a brother, for example, that has had many run-ins with the law and shares his illegal plans with you, it’s best to report any potential crimes to the authorities. Failing to do so might ultimately result in both you and the criminal getting arrested, even if you feel you haven’t “done anything” to be arrested for.
Aiding and abetting criminals is a typical way you can find yourself accused of a participatory offense. Using the example above, let’s say that your brother has robbed a bank or stolen a car and needs to use your house as a “place to hide for a while.” You may be committing a crime simply because you’re aiding a criminal, even if you’re not the person who stole the car or robbed the bank. These are true offenses that you’ll want to avoid every single time.
Rules of Thumb
The best rule of thumb, of course, is not to commit any crime. But it’s also important to remember that you should not “play dumb” when you know someone else is committing a crime because you might be charged with a participatory offense. You should take on the attitude that all crimes are abhorrent to you and that being asked to even not report a crime is an unreasonable request. Avoiding crime can be a proactive process in many cases.
Of course, the simplest way to take away any of this worry is to avoid socializing with any known criminals in the first place. Sometimes, this is difficult to avoid, particularly if a family member is committing crimes. But be firm in your stance that you don’t want to be arrested for someone else’s actions and eventually you’ll learn the right thing to do.