Note: maybe this should be on the law stack exchange, I really am not sure!

In 1930, Al Capone made the cover of Time Magazine. Assuming this image was taken by Time Magazine, they would have had to call in Al Capone, have him sit for a headshot, and let him leave. Wouldn't this be considered aiding and abetting a criminal in that they knew who he was but didn't try in any way to stop him or arrest him? I asked a teacher about it and he said laws were different back then- but were they so different that aiding a criminal wasn't illegal? If it was illegal, why didn't the federal government do anything?

Note #2: if this should be broken up into more than one question, also, please let me know! Thank you!

  • 2
    Why do you think a photographer had any legal burden to try and arrest someone? If a photographer tried to arrest you, how would you proceed?
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 13, 2019 at 22:11
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    Further, note the prosecution for tax evasion was not until 1931. Nor was there difficulty in finding him.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 13, 2019 at 22:14
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    This question presupposes that Capone in 1930 was a fugitive from justice, which he was not. In fact he was never a fugitive from justice since he was in the courtroom when he was convicted and never subsequently escaped.
    – C Monsour
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:08

4 Answers 4


Leaving aside the fact that Al Capone was not actually wanted by the police at that point (for lack of sufficient evidence that could lead to a guilty verdict) as @C.Monsour pointed out:

The whole idea of much of the jurisdiction surrounding the press, the special status afforded to journalists, is that they are allowed, indeed expected to talk to all kinds of people, including those who are "wanted", fugitives, or would otherwise face less favorable handling by police, intelligence agencies, or governments. Without having to disclose the whereabouts, or even identity, of their sources.

Journalists are in the business of reporting both sides of a story, not in apprehending -- or helping to apprehend -- people the executive branch might consider criminals. If there were something inherently wrong in journalists not arresting a wanted person, they could not conduct interviews with e.g. whistleblowers, illegal immigrants, terrorists, etc. etc.

To the contrary, the fact that they are very much not in the business of apprehending / arresting people is what protects journalists. Like battlefield medics, they are protected by the very fact that they do not get involved, just report what is happening, and can therefore be considered "neutral" in that regard.

  • That's pretty much correct. But also portraying an ideal and "theory". Especially the use of present tense in this A clashes with the reality of journalists in custody today and the OP's request for clarification of "laws were different then". Written law, and interpretation of it back then (maybe even contrasted to recent changes, justified mostly by good vs evil, err, war on terror) might go a long way. Mar 14, 2019 at 12:43
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    @LangLangC: OP's teacher stated that "laws were different then", implying that it was legal back then and no longer legal today. Journalists in US custody today are so because they are accused on (trumped up or genuine, I leave to the observer) charges of e.g. committing (or inciting to commit) espionage, endangering national security or whatever. Performing a photoshoot with somebody without apprehending the person or telling the authorities was, and is, perfectly legal, and the OP's teacher is very much (and sadly) mistaken.
    – DevSolar
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:02
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    (ctd.) Journalists are no more obligated to facilitate an arrest of somebody than Joe Average on the street. Not back then, not today.
    – DevSolar
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:03
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    You don't have to convince me, but facts & sources for these theories (from teacher or this A) comparing them in congruence or contrast would be good. A more general description of public, press, gangs, law & enforcement in the public enemy era might be instructive. Cf Dean O'Banion on Duffy murder or similar examples, like npr.org/2010/08/09/128872365/… Just a thought: where does it say "perfectly legal", either literally or in spirit? Mar 14, 2019 at 13:19
  • While this is more-or-less true, it's also irrelevant to the question. Capone was not wanted at the time.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 14, 2019 at 17:54

Note: @C.Monsour's comment should be the definitive answer to this question. Capone was not a fugitive. If @CMonsour will provide that as an answer, I'd urge all to upvote it and urge OP to accept the answer as authoritative.

I am not a lawyer, but I interpret "aiding and abetting" differently.

Aiding and abetting is a legal doctrine related to the guilt of someone who aids or abets in the commission of a crime (or in another's suicide). Wikipedia


In all cases of aiding and abetting, it must be shown a crime has been committed, but not necessarily who committed it. Ibid

When he was sitting for a photograph, was he committing a crime? If not, then the photographer was not "aiding and abetting". (Aside: I seriously doubt that they called Capone in to sit - Newspapers go to the story, they don't ask the story to come to them).

Did they send a photographer to take the headshot, or did they use a stock photo? Or did they purchase the photo from a stringer? If they invited him to the office, then there might have been counter-charges of entrapment, although I don't know how Illinois dealt with that at the time.

The question suggests that they should have arrested him. Still not a lawyer, but the power of citizen's arrest is very limited. I believe this power would be governed by state law, and I'm not familiar with 1930's Illinois law, but the Wikipedia summary is:

In the United States a private person may arrest another without a warrant, for a crime occurring in their presence. For which crimes this is permitted may vary state by state. Wikipedia

Once again, if the photographer didn't observe the crime, then the citizen's arrest might not be legal; I even think it is plausible that it would complicate police's attempt to arrest Capone.

Finally, one must consider Freedom of the press. @Devsolar's answer on this issue is superior, although I wish it explicitly called out to the First Amendment's protection of Freedom of the Press, which would make it very difficult for the government to prosecute a journalist for performing a legitimate journalistic function.

  • 5
    Was he even "wanted" (by which I mean that there had been a legal warrant issued for his arrest) for any crime at the time the photograph was taken. See the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, for starters.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 14, 2019 at 3:44
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    Considering the setup OP presents, Al could also have been invited to the office, then the reporters snitching and call the cops to come. But then this is all a hypothetical as the picture could have come from anywhere (bought from outside sources or secret meeting place), no arrest warrant in force at the time or unknown to the reporters… Mar 14, 2019 at 12:55
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    As also commented below: the dynamics of theory (law) & practice (actions&events) is just one cloud to observe, the other dimensions are public, press, gangs, law & enforcement. crimereads.com/al-capone-gangster-publicist jstor.org/stable/40192250 Mar 14, 2019 at 13:30

That would generally only apply if he was run from the law at the time, and a case could be made that Time Magazine was somehow helping him hide by putting his picture on their cover.

It sounds like you are assuming he was charged with serious crimes pretty much his whole adult life, and the only impediment to putting him in jail was law enforcement being able to find him. That was certainly not the case.

In fact, Capone was regularly arrested for relatively petty things. In 1930 alone he started the year in jail for gun possesion, got released in March, was arrested for "Vagrancy" in Florida, charged with Perjury and acquitted, charged with "Vagrancy" in Chicago, and tried and convicted on Contempt of Court.

The point of this is that he was never all that hard for the Law to get hold of when they wanted to. It would be tough to argue that Time helped him commit these crimes in any way.


In 1930, Al Capone made the cover of Time Magazine. Assuming this image was taken by Time Magazine, they would have had to call in Al Capone, have him sit for a headshot, and let him leave. Wouldn't this be considered aiding and abetting a criminal in that they knew who he was but didn't try in any way to stop him or arrest him?

enter image description here

Capone was found guilty of one count of Tax evasion, for his 1925 taxes, Oct 8th 1931, eleven months after the Time Cover was published. So when the time magazine article was published Nov 12, 1930; Capone wasn't wanted by the law.

I also think it's a leap to assume Time Magazine which was published (headquarters) in New York would have required Al Capone to travel from Chicago to their offices in New York to sit for the cover photograph. The March 31st 1930 magazine cover featured, Mahatma Gandhi. Who would be arrested in India, only about five weeks after the issue was published on May 5th, near Dandi for violating Salt Law. There is no record Gandhi traveled to NY to be photographed for his cover.

enter image description here


Background Notes.
Al Capone actually had a plea bargain in place prior to going to trial in 1931, in which he agreed to serve two and a half years in jail for a guilty plea to tax evasion. The judge threw out the agreement and ordered trial to commence. Capone's 11 year sentence is still the longest sentence ever issued for tax evasion. Capone would serve only 7 years of his sentence being released November 1939, for a medical condition (paresis caused by untreated syphilis). Capone died January 25, 1947.

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