Federal "Fugitive" Laws (18 U.S.C. § 1071 - 1074)
Explained by Nevada Criminal Defense Attorneys

Crossing state lines to flee criminal prosecution or incarceration is a federal crime carrying fines and imprisonment. It is also illegal in Nevada to conceal fugitives.

This page provides a summary of the federal crimes of "flight to avoid prosecution or giving testimony" and "concealing fugitives." Keep reading for more about the definition of a fugitive, methods our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys use to defend against charges, and possible penalties upon conviction.


The legal definition of a "fugitive from justice" under federal law is when someone flees to another state or country with the intent to do either of the following:

  • to avoid prosecution, or custody after conviction, for willfully attempting to or damaging by fire or explosive any building, structure, facility, vehicle, dwelling house, synagogue, church, religious center or educational institution
  • to avoid prosecution, or custody after conviction, for a felony or attempted felony
  • to avoid giving testimony in any criminal proceedings related to the above crimes

In short, a fugitive is someone who crosses state lines for the purpose of escaping prosecution, prison, or other serious legal proceedings. Beatty NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an example:

Example: Mark commits the federal crime of bank robbery in a Henderson bank. Afterwards he flees to California to elude the Nevada police. If caught, Jacob could be arrested in California and eventually extradited back to Nevada and booked at Henderson NV Detention Center for the Nevada crime of bank robbery as well as being a fugitive for attempting to avoid prosecution in Nevada.

Note that Nevada Federal Court is not the only court that has jurisdiction in Mark's case in the above example. Authorities could choose to prosecute Mark for being a fugitive in California instead of Nevada. Any state a suspected fugitive flees to has jurisdiction to bring fugitive charges. (18 U.S.C. § 1073; 18 U.S.C. § 1074)

Concealing Fugitives

It is also a federal offense for someone to knowingly harbor a person fleeing from arrest or a prisoner who has escaped. Goodsprings NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse illustrates this law:

Example: Jim escapes from prison in L.A. and flees to a Reno motel, where he gets a room. The U.S. Marshals Service finds and arrests him. Then they book the motel manager at the Washoe County
Detention Center
for concealing Jim. But because the manager had no idea that Jim was a fugitive, he should not be held criminally liable.

In cases where a fugitive pressures someone to conceal him/her by threatening the person's life or safety, the person might still face charges for concealing the fugitive. But depending on the nature of the threats, the U.S. Attorney's Office may decide to drop the charges or press for minimum penalties. (18 U.S.C. § 1071; 18 U.S.C. § 1072)

Fugitive cases necessarily involve extradition issues. In some cases, a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney may be able to prevent an alleged fugitive from being dragged back into the original state. Read more about Extradition to or from Nevada.


The prosecution in a federal criminal case always has the burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For federal fugitive allegations in Nevada, the central defense turns on the defendant's intent:

If the defendant is an alleged fugitive, the defense attorney would try to show that he/she had no intent to flee prosecution or prison. And if the defendant allegedly concealed a fugitive, the defense attorney would try to show that he/she did not know the person was a fugitive. As long as the prosecution has insufficient evidence to prove criminal intent, the charges should be dropped.

Another possible defense for defendants who are alleged fugitives is that they never crossed state lines. If the defendant always stayed within the same state, then federal court has no jurisdiction over the case.



A defendant who is convicted in Nevada federal court for being a fugitive faces a sentence of a fine and/or up to five years in Federal Prison. Meanwhile, the punishment for harboring a fugitive depends on the fugitive:

  • If the fugitive is fleeing arrest or imprisonment for a felony, concealing the fugitive carries a fine and/or up to five years imprisonment.
  • If the fugitive is fleeing arrest for a non-felony, concealing the fugitive carries a fine and/or up to one-year imprisonment.
  • If the fugitive is an escaped prisoner, concealing him/her carries up to three years in prison.

Note that the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas and the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno are the two courthouses in Nevada which hear federal fugitive cases.

Charged? Call us . . . .

If you have been arrested on federal charges for being a "fugitive" or "concealing a fugitive" in Nevada, contact our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free meeting in our Las Vegas office or by telephone. We may be able to avoid extradition and get the charges dropped.



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