It's straight out of a cable TV miniseries: you walk by your spouse's open computer or pick up your kid's chirping phone and inadvertently see a message that implicates them in criminal activity. Your heart skips a beat, and as the shock wears off, thoughts race through your head: anger at what they've done, concern for their future, and of course, the question of what to do next?
Each situation is different, and one thing you should consider doing as soon as possible is speaking with experienced criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento, who can help you assess the situation. But here are some general guidelines that may help you with some of your questions until you receive legal advice.
You Probably Don't Have to Report the Crime
Generally speaking, in New Jersey, there is no obligation for ordinary citizens to report criminal activity. Exceptions exist for people in certain professions, such as health care and education, but in most cases, not reporting a crime is not a crime.
You Probably Won't Have to Testify Against Your Spouse
There is a privilege built into New Jersey law, similar to the privilege against self-incrimination. Rule 509 of the New Jersey Rules of Evidence applies to married spouses and civil union partners and prevents one spouse from testifying against another without the other spouse's consent. One exception, however, is if both spouses are “joint participants” in ongoing or future criminal activity, and the subject of the testimony is a communication made by one spouse to the other in the course of that criminal activity.
You May Be Liable for Damage Your Kid Does
While you're unlikely to be criminally liable for the illegal acts of your children, if they cause damage in the course of those acts under New Jersey law, you may be required to pay damages to the victim.
Be Careful About Becoming an Accomplice
It's important to be careful about getting involved in your spouse's or children's ongoing criminal activity. It's not unheard of for spouses or parents who learn that a loved one is engaging in criminal behavior to try to get involved in putting a stop to it. The problem is then accidentally becoming an accomplice, which can happen if you help another person plan or commit a crime – even if it's “just this one last time.”
Your Best Course is to Seek Legal Advice
Finding evidence of the criminal activity of a loved one is frightening and confusing. A criminal conviction for even a minor offense can have life-changing consequences, and it's natural to want to do everything you can to put a stop to the criminal behavior and keep your loved one from being arrested. The fact of the matter is, however, that criminal law is a complicated area, and if you find yourself in this situation, you should seek the advice of knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. He and his team of professionals at the Lento Law Firm have decades of experience representing criminal defendants in New Jersey and can help you make informed and effective decisions about how to deal with a loved one involved in criminal activity. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 or through our contact form to learn more about how we can help.