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What Is an Accessory After the Fact?


What Is an “Accessory After the Fact” in California?

You have probably heard the term “accessory after the fact” on TV shows or in the media. This is a common term used in criminal law. In California, it is a legal term that refers to individuals who knowingly assist or protect someone who has committed a felony after the crime has occurred.

According to California Penal Code §32, being an "accessory after the fact" involves knowingly harboring, concealing, or aiding a felon.

Examples can include:

  • Intentionally misleading or lying to the police about the felon's whereabouts or actions
  • Providing a false alibi for the felon
  • Helping the felon escape from law enforcement
  • Assisting in hiding evidence related to the felony

Here is a scenario of being an accessory after the fact of a crime having been committed:

Joe and Tom have been best friends since grade school. One evening, Tom shows up unexpectedly at Joe's house looking panicked. He confesses to Joe that he was involved in a robbery earlier that night.

Tom explains that he and another friend planned to rob a local convenience store, thinking it would be an easy target. However, things didn't go as planned. The store owner attempted to fight back, and Tom's accomplice shot the owner in the heat of the moment. They fled the scene, but now Tom is worried that the police will quickly identify him due to surveillance footage.

Joe is shocked and scared but wants to help his friend. He decides to let Tom hide in his attic, providing him with food and other necessities. Joe even goes as far as to lie to the police when they knock on his door, asking about Tom's whereabouts.

In this scenario, Joe becomes an accessory after the fact. Despite not participating in the actual crime, he knowingly aids Tom after the crime has occurred by providing shelter and lying to the police to protect him. If discovered, Joe could face criminal charges for his actions.

Furthermore, if Joe was under oath when lying about such information, he could also be charged with perjury. Perjury is intentionally lying in court after taking an oath to tell the truth. This is also a serious offense and can result in severe penalties, including jail time.

Penalties for Being an Accessory After the Fact

In California, being an accessory after the fact is considered a "wobbler" offense. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history.

If convicted under Penal Code §32 as a misdemeanor, the penalties can include up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000. If charged as a felony, the penalties can include 16 months, two years, or three years in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

How Appel & Morse Can Help

Defending against these charges often involves proving that the individual did not know that the person they aided had committed a felony or that they did not provide any assistance. Our criminal defense lawyers can help gather evidence, interview witnesses, and present a compelling case in court to support these defenses.

If you are facing these charges, we can work to challenge the prosecution's evidence, negotiate plea deals, or potentially get the charges reduced or dismissed, depending on the circumstances. We offer free consultations to give you guidance and explore your options.

Contact us online or at (805) 467-6060 to set up your free case assessment today.