In one of the most famous season finales in television history, George, Elaine, Jerry and Kramer are all charged under a “Good Samaritan Law” for watching someone get car jacked and failing to offer any assistance. But almost fifteen years later, countless fans still find themselves wondering if such laws even exist and if so, could the gang actually be convicted for doing nothing? It’s time to find out.
First of all, it’s important to note that while there are plenty of Good Samaritan laws on the books, these do not actually involve interfering with criminal activity, but instead with helping people who are injured. In fact, most of these are written not to force persons to help, but protect those who do provide assistance from civil litigation. The criminal statute that the Seinfeld gang violated was actually what is known as a “Duty to Rescue” law.
At the time of the finale, the US only had a handful of Duty to Rescue laws, and the small town of Latham, Massachusetts did not have one at all. According to San Diego criminal attorney Peter Liss, even if you put the cast in modern day California, they could still only be found guilty if they failed to report the murder or rape of someone under 14. The state does have strict reporting regulations for those who observe child or elder abuse, but only if those persons happen to be what the state considers “mandatory reporters” of these crimes because they work in places such as nursing homes, doctors offices, therapy centers or schools.
States that do have Duty to Rescue laws on the books allow for someone to be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report a violent crime, but even then, the laws do not require someone to put themselves in danger in order to do so. Being as how the carjacker had a gun, the group would not be legally required to intervene to stop the crime. In fact, even the arresting officer in the show says the law requires people to help or assist anyone in danger, “as long as it’s reasonable to do so.” Even the strictest prosecuting attorney in the nation would agree that it is not reasonable expect a stranger to interfere with someone holding a firearm.
On the other hand Jerry still could be accused of failing to help the victim by not calling the police with his cell phone. That being said, San Diego criminal lawyer Mr. Liss points out that an attorney could defend the group from such accusations by explaining that they did not want to attract the carjacker’s attention by calling the police while an armed man is near them -not to mention, their inactivity in a crime that happened that fast would not have helped stop the crime. Either way, police would have to chase down the carjacker. Duty to Rescue laws do not specify that you need to call the police while see someone committing a violent crime, only that you need to report the crime.
Additionally, the criminal attorney in San Diego points out that, if anything, the gang helped the defendant by video taping the encounter and recording extremely useful evidence of the event that could convict the carjacker. That means that even if they belittled the victim at the time, they would still be helping him and therefore, deserve to be commended.
When you watch the scene though, it’s easy to see that the one person who should truly be punished, aside from the carjacker, would be the police officer who was in the area when the carjacking happened, but still thought his time would be better spent arresting innocent bystanders who obtained evidence of the crime.
Of course, no one wants to be found guilty for merely doing nothing, so if you ever find yourself being accused of failing to do something, like the gang in Seinfeld, please call top San Diego criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss to discuss how to fight the charges against you.