There are numerous ways of solving law enforcement problems in roundabout ways. The IRS famously
put Al Capone’s murderous reign to an
end with a conviction for tax fraud. Martha
Stewart folded sheets on the inside of a prison
cell, not because they caught her
for insider trading, but because she
lied about it.
Little known in the federal
criminal code is Title 18, United States
Code, Section 4, known as “misprision
of a felony.” The statute reminds me
of yesteryear, when in high school
civics we were taught that we all have
a responsibility in this republic to uphold the
law and help bring felons to justice. After all,
they have committed a crime against society,
and you are part of that social compact. In
the Midwest where I grew up, reporting to
the police was a given. It isn’t everybody’s
experience, but I grew up in a Mayberry-esque
time and place. That feels like so very long
ago—a time of nostalgic innocence.
The statute is simple and has
repercussions for compliance officers and
their companies. In a nutshell, if you know
about a crime (specifically a felony) and
you conceal and fail to report that crime
to authorities, then you become guilty of
a felony yourself. It falls into a family of
offenses related to obstruction of justice. It is
a “little” cousin to witness tampering ( 18 USC
§§1512, 1513); obstruction ( 18 USC §§1505,
1509, 1510, 1511, 1516–1520); principals ( 18
USC §2); accessory after the fact ( 18 USC § 3);
false statements ( 18 USC §1001); and perjury
( 18 USC §§1621–1623). Put bluntly, deception
» Misprision of a felony is a little known criminal statute that is often used as a “lesser offense” plea tool and represents
a compliance risk, particularly when dealing with third parties.
» Misprision is in a family of offenses related to obstruction of justice and is a close relative to the charge of accessory
after the fact.
» The elements of the crime involve both knowledge of a crime committed by a third party and some attempt at
suppression or concealment of the crime.
» A lie (commission or omission) that tends to hide the fact that somebody else committed a crime, particularly if it
protects one’s interests, puts a person in the crosshairs of a prosecution for misprision.
» Your risk planning and compliance training should be thinking about how market factors, profit motive, and individual
motivations can lead to the temptation toward misprision, and how to mitigate that risk.
by Daniel Coney, CCEP, CFE, CFCS
Don’t sing the misprision
blues: A little known