Federal law defines fugitives are people who cross state lines to escape being arrested, charged, or imprisoned. Suspected fugitives face up to five years in prison, and people who conceal fugitives face up to one, three, or five years in prison depending on the case.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:e
- 1. What is a “fugitive from justice” under federal law?
- 2. What are the penalties?
- 3. What are the defenses?
1. What is a “fugitive from justice” under federal law?
The federal crime of being a fugitive from justice occurs when you flee to another state or country with the intent to do either of the following:
- avoid prosecution or prison for a felony or attempted felony; or
- avoid prosecution or prison for arson or attempted arson; or
- avoid giving testimony in any criminal proceedings related to the above crimes.1
In short, a fugitive is someone who crosses state lines to escape prosecution, prison, or other serious legal proceedings.
Note that if you get caught, prosecutors can press charges in either the state you fled from or the state you fled to.2
Example: Mark commits robbery in Las Vegas. Afterwards he flees to California to elude the Nevada police.
If caught, federal prosecutors can charge Jacob with being a fugitive in either Nevada or California. (Though Jacob would have to be extradited back to Nevada in order to be prosecuted for robbery since robbery is a state charge.)
Currently, Nevada has two courthouses where federal cases are handled:
2. What are the penalties?
Convicted fugitives face criminal penalties of:
- up to 5 years in Federal Prison; and/or
- a fine.3
Note that it is also a federal crime to knowingly conceal or harbor a fugitive. The penalties for hiding a fugitive depend on the case:
Federal penalties for concealing a fugitive
|Fleeing prosecution for a felony||Up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine|
|Fleeing prosecution for a non-felony||Up to 1 year in prison and/or a fine4|
|Escaped prisoner||Up to 3 years in prison5|
3. What are the defenses?
Based on our experience representing suspected fugitives in Nevada, the most effective defense is to argue that you genuinely did not know you were facing criminal charges.
Example: After breaking up with her boyfriend James in Los Angeles, Jessica travels to Las Vegas to stay with a friend. James then files a false police report that Jessica tried to strangle him, and the police issue a felony arrest warrant.
Police then apprehend Jessica in Las Vegas for fleeing California, and police apprehend Jessica’s friend for harboring her. But since Jessica and her friend genuinely had no notice of the warrant, they had no criminal intent and therefore committed no crime.
Common evidence in these cases includes:
- eyewitness accounts
- video surveillance footage
- recorded communications (such as voicemails, emails, or texts)
If prosecutors cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you traveled between states for the purpose of escaping justice – or that you knowingly hid a fugitive – then fugitive charges cannot stand.
Another possible defense is to show state lines were never crossed (such as by using GPS phone records, eyewitnesses, etc.). As long as you stayed in-state, federal fugitive charges do not apply.
- 18 U.S.C. § 1073. Flight to avoid prosecution or giving testimony. Whoever moves or travels in interstate or foreign commerce with intent either (1) to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement after conviction, under the laws of the place from which he flees, for a crime, or an attempt to commit a crime, punishable by death or which is a felony under the laws of the place from which the fugitive flees, or (2) to avoid giving testimony in any criminal proceedings in such place in which the commission of an offense punishable by death or which is a felony under the laws of such place, is charged, or (3) to avoid service of, or contempt proceedings for alleged disobedience of, lawful process requiring attendance and the giving of testimony or the production of documentary evidence before an agency of a State empowered by the law of such State to conduct investigations of alleged criminal activities, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. For the purposes of clause (3) of this paragraph, the term “State” includes a State of the United States, the District of Columbia, and any commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States.
Violations of this section may be prosecuted only in the Federal judicial district in which the original crime was alleged to have been committed, or in which the person was held in custody or confinement, or in which an avoidance of service of process or a contempt referred to in clause (3) of the first paragraph of this section is alleged to have been committed, and only upon formal approval in writing by the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, or an Assistant Attorney General of the United States, which function of approving prosecutions may not be delegated.
18 U.S.C. § 1074. Flight to avoid prosecution for damaging or destroying any building or other real or personal property.
(a) Whoever moves or travels in interstate or foreign commerce with intent either (1) to avoid prosecution, or custody, or confinement after conviction, under the laws of the place from which he flees, for willfully attempting to or damaging or destroying by fire or explosive any building, structure, facility, vehicle, dwelling house, synagogue, church, religious center or educational institution, public or private, or (2) to avoid giving testimony in any criminal proceeding relating to any such offense shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
(b) Violations of this section may be prosecuted in the Federal judicial district in which the original crime was alleged to have been committed or in which the person was held in custody or confinement: Provided, however, That this section shall not be construed as indicating an intent on the part of Congress to prevent any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession of the United States of any jurisdiction over any offense over which they would have jurisdiction in the absence of such section.See, for example: Beach v. Smith, (9th Cir., 1984) 743 F.2d 1303; Hett v. United States, (9th Cir., 1965) 353 F.2d 761.
- See note 1.
- See note 1. See our related article, escaping from jail or prison in Nevada (NRS 212.090) – geared for suspected fugitives who do not cross state lines.
- 18 U.S.C. § 1071. Concealing person from arrest. Whoever harbors or conceals any person for whose arrest a warrant or process has been issued under the provisions of any law of the United States, so as to prevent his discovery and arrest, after notice or knowledge of the fact that a warrant or process has been issued for the apprehension of such person, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; except that if the warrant or process issued on a charge of felony, or after conviction of such person of any offense, the punishment shall be a fine under this title, or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
- 18 U.S.C. § 1072. Concealing escaped prisoner. Whoever willfully harbors or conceals any prisoner after his escape from the custody of the Attorney General or from a Federal penal or correctional institution, shall be imprisoned not more than three years.