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What Does It Mean to Be an Accessory to a Crime?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on September 30, 2021

To be an accessory to a crime means you helped someone in the commission of a criminal act. You may be charged with this crime if you helped the criminal party before or after their criminal act.

How California Law Defines “Accessory to a Crime”

California Penal Code § 32 PC explains that the charge of accessory to a crime generally pertains to felony acts. Under this statute, an accessory to a crime is someone who:

“…person who, after a felony has been committed, harbors, conceals or aids a principal in such felony, with the intent that said principal may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment…”

The statute notes that the accessory to the crime must know that the person they are helping was committing a crime.

 

What ‘Accessory Before the Fact’ Means

If you are an accessory before the fact, then you helped someone prior to the commission of a crime. Though you may not have directly participated in the crime that they are convicted of, you are accused of assisting them in some way related to the crime.

You may be charged as an accessory before the fact if you are accused of:

  • Helping someone plan a criminal act
  • Providing resources that another party uses in a criminal act
  • Providing shelter to someone who is planning a criminal act (if you have knowledge that they are planning the act)

Other circumstances may expose you to a charge of accessory before the fact.

 

Specific Examples That May Qualify as Accessory Before the Fact

Someone may be an accessory before the fact if:

  • They allow someone who is dealing drugs to live in their home.
  • They provide a vehicle to someone who they know is going to commit a crime.
  • They give advice or knowledge that helps someone with the commission of a crime.

There are many other specific acts that qualify one as an accessory before the fact.

 

What ‘Accessory After the Fact’ Means

An accessory after the fact is someone who helps a person after the commission of a crime. You may be charged as an accessory after the fact if you are accused of:

  • Helping someone dispose of incriminating evidence
  • Providing shelter to someone you know is wanted for a crime
  • Withholding incriminating information from law enforcement officials
  • Intentionally misleading law enforcement officials to assist the guilty party

If you assist a criminal in any way that impedes their apprehension or prosecution, then you may be charged as an accessory after the fact.

 

Specific Examples That May Qualify as Accessory Before the Fact

Someone may be an accessory after the fact if:

  • They dispose of a knife that they suspect or know was part of a criminal act.
  • They drive a getaway vehicle.
  • They allow a friend who is wanted for a crime to stay at their home.
  • They help clean a crime scene.

Remember that an accessory to a crime charge requires the accused to have knowledge (or reasonable suspicion) that a person committed a felony act.

Criminal Sanctions for an Accessory to a Crime Charge

A charge of accessory to crime means that you are facing criminal sanctions. Prosecutors in your case may have the choice of charging you with either a felony or misdemeanor. Case-specific factors, such as the nature and extent of your involvement in a criminal act, may determine the severity of your charge.

For a misdemeanor, you may face up to one year in county jail. For a felony, you may face up to three years in jail or state prison. You may also face fines.

Possible Defenses to an Accessory to a Crime Charge

Possible defenses to an accessory to a crime charge include:

  • That you did not know of the party’s criminal act.
  • That you were threatened into acting as an accessory.
  • That you did not act as an accessory, and the allegations against you are materially false.

Other defenses may apply in your case.

 

Call Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP If You Are Facing Criminal Charges

If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge, call Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP. Our firm’s case results show how we have helped clients avoid serious criminal convictions. We can help you, too.

Call Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP today at (213) 688-0460 for a free consultation.

 

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Posted in: Criminal Defense