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When Your Son is Involved in Murder
The Evidence Trail
One day Jonas’ mother discovered bloodstains on his clothes and mud on his boots, this evidence clearly suggested that he may have been involved in the murder of his former girlfriend Lynn a few days earlier. Jonas himself had denied any involvement in her murder when questioned by the police after the body was discovered in the woods. He was questioned because he had been Lynn’s boyfriend and had only recently broken up with her, just a few days before the murder. Among his clothes his mother also discovered a bracelet written “Lynn.” The medical examination on the body had revealed that Lynn had died from multiple stabbing.
It must be considered here that a mother’s first instinct is to protect her child. So Jonas’ mother was motivated to cover up the evidence she had discovered. The fact that the police did not have any evidence against her son also served as a further incentive for such a cover up. Jonas’ mother was thus faced with a moral dilemma. She had to choose between obeying the law and reporting the evidence she had gathered to the police, or shielding her son by hiding the evidence altogether. The first scenario, reporting the matter, was quite likely to lead to the conviction and subsequent execution of her son for first degree murder. The second, scenario would make her an accessory. So what would you do if you were Jonas’ mother? Would the law be on your side if you withheld the evidence from the police?
Relevant Legal Concepts
Legally, covering up for her son, especially in a case as serious as murder, would automatically make her an “accessory after the fact”, to the crime. An “accessory after that fact” is a person who shelters, relieves or assists the principal after the crime has been committed. The principal here is the person who actually commits the crime (Shubert, 2009, 45). Since murder is a felony, an accessory may be considered a felon too and consequently may face a very stiff sentence. However, the law considers the moral dilemma that a person faces when someone close to her, as in Jonas’ mother’s case, is involved in a crime that draws a stiff legal penalty (Shubert, 2009, 45). The dilemma is quite clear. If the mother does what is legally and ethically right by reporting the matter, she will in essence be playing her civil role of protecting the society by ridding it of a felon. On the other hand she will be sacrificing her son, for the sake of the society. The question she must ask herself is; which is more important, the society or her son? The law finds such a legal dilemma admissible in defense of a person accused of being an accessory under such circumstances. Evidence of this is illustrated in the case of below.
The State v Mobbley
In this case, the state of New Mexico brought charges against Mrs. Mobbley for harboring her husband, Ricky Mobbley and another man Andrew Needham, who were hiding in her residence when the police came with a warrant of arrest for them concerning a felony they allegedly committed (Shubert, 2009, 50). She told the police that she did not know of their whereabouts, even though she knew they were hiding in the house. When she was charged with harboring wanted criminals, the state court ruled that legally she could not be accused of harboring her husband. The state later appealed on the grounds that she had harbored Mr. Needham as well, though they could not sustain any charges about harboring her husband (Shubert, 2009, 50).
Though the choice is clearly left to Jonas’ mother on whether to report her son or not, the law is on her side even if she doesn’t. Her first obligation as a mother is clearly to protect her son. Any other consideration is secondary, and this includes what under normal circumstances would be to report any criminal to the police (Shubert, 2009, 55). In this case, reporting him would amount to self-incrimination since she would seriously suffer if her son was to be sentenced to death. Even if it is discovered later that she had withheld homicide evidence, which is a felony, she would not be legally liable for doing so. So she can safely withhold the evidence and get away with it.
Shubert, F. A. (2009). Introduction to Law and the Legal System. Mason, OH: Cengage.