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Tampa-area woman to be retried on 700-year-old law

Federal prosecutors in Tampa are trying again to convict a 24-year-old woman on an unusual charge that has its roots in medieval law. The woman is accused of "misprision of a felony" -- basically, failing to report a felony to authorities. The case is indirectly related to criminal charges against the woman's boyfriend, who is accused of fatally shooting two police officers during a traffic stop in 2010. The woman was tried in July but the case ended in a mistrial.

Misprision of a felony comes from English common law and is traced back to the 1300s. Male adult citizens at that time faced criminal punishment if they did not "raise a hue and cry" upon witnessing a crime. With the rise of professional police forces in the 700 years since, the crime has become decidedly obscure.

In this case, prosecutors claim, the woman failed to alert authorities that her boyfriend was in possession of a firearm with a felony on his record. The couple was pulled over in June 2010. Prosecutors say that when the one of the officers called for backup, the boyfriend believed he was about to be arrested in connection with a murder case. He allegedly pulled out a gun and shot both officers before fleeing on foot.

Authorities say they do not believe the girlfriend failed to warn the officers of the shooting because she did know it was going to happen. Still, her attorney says the two trials on an obscure felony charge are retaliation for not cooperating with police during interrogation into the shootings.

The misprision of a felony charge was originally dismissed by the trial court before being restored on appeal. The jury in the July trial was unable to reach a verdict, so the judge declared a mistrial.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Girlfriend being retried on rare charge," William R. Levesque, Jan. 14, 2013

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