Accessory After the Fact

In California, you can be charged with being an accessory after the fact if you help a person accused of a felony escape justice.

What Does the Prosecutor Have to Prove that I am Liable for Being an “Accessory After the Fact?”

Pursuant to Section 32 of the California Penal Code, in order to prove that you are an accessory after the fact, the prosecutor must show the following:

  • That you rendered assistance to a perpetrator
  • After he or she committed a felony
  • and that you did so by aiding him or her in escaping arrest, trial, conviction and/or punishment

For example, Rob holds up a bank and runs out with the loot. Hearing the sirens of police vehicles in the distance as they make their approach, Rob offers Sally a portion of the loot if she helps drive him away from the crime scene. Rob will be liable for the principal crime of robbery under Penal Code Section 211 (a “strike.”) However, Sally will also be charged. She is liable under Penal Code Section 32 for being an accessory after the fact.

What Are Some Defenses That May Be Available to a charge of Accessory After the Fact?

There are an array of legal theories that our Torrance criminal defense attorneys can advance in your defense.

One such defense is that you had no knowledge of the felony. Using the previous example, if Rob approached Sally, made no mention of the bank robbery or proposed division of the loot, and simply asked Sally for a ride, our Torrance criminal defense attorneys can argue that Sally did not have the intention of helping Rob abscond or escape justice and, therefore, was not an accessory after the fact.

Another defense is that there was no felony. If the person you are accused of having helped can only be charged with a misdemeanor for the crime he or she committed, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can argue that this element of Penal Code 32 was not met and that the accessory charge should be dropped. Using the previous example, if Rob had stolen less than $400 worth of merchandise from the local department store (making it a misdemeanor petty theft), and Sally drove him away from the store (as they view exasperated security guards chasing after the vehicle in the rear view mirror), our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will argue that you cannot be liable under Penal Code 32 because Rob committed no felony to begin with.

What Are Some Defenses That May Be Available to a charge of Accessory After the Fact?

There are an array of legal theories that our Torrance criminal defense attorneys can advance in your defense.

Lack of intent

One is that you had no knowledge of the felony. Using the previous example, if Rob approached Sally, made no mention of the bank robbery or proposed division of the loot, and simply asked Sally for a ride, our Torrance criminal defense attorneys can argue that Sally did not have the intention of helping Rob abscond or escape justice and, therefore, was not an accessory after the fact.

No felony

Another defense is that there was no felony. If the person you are accused of having helped can only be charged with a misdemeanor for the crime he or she committed, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can argue that this element of Penal Code 32 was not met and that the accessory charge should be dropped. Using the previous example, if Rob had stolen less than $400 worth of merchandise from the local department store (making it a misdemeanor petty theft), and Sally drove him away from the store (as they view exasperated security guards chasing after the vehicle in the rear view mirror), our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will argue that you cannot be liable under Penal Code 32 because Rob committed no felony to begin with.

Bystander

Another defense that may be available to you is that you were a bystander who had no connection to the crime or it’s subsequent events. If John has stolen a car and pulls over to Jane, who is sitting at a bus stop, and asks her for directions without letting her know that he has stolen a car, and Jane gives him directions, she will not be liable as an accessory after the fact. (Suppose, however, that Jane is listening to satellite radio news on her phone, which just reported a stolen vehicle, and is aware that John has stolen a car. Suppose further that John asks her for directions to the nearest interstate freeway on-ramp and Jane, who knows better but finds John’s tattoos and pompadour irresistible, gives him directions anyway. Under this fact pattern, Jane could potentially be liable under Penal Code 32).

Duress

If you were under duress at the time you acted, our Torrance criminal defense attorneys can argue that you should not be liable for the offense because you lacked the requisite intention to help the fleeing felon. Using a variation of the above example, if John approached Jane at the bus stop, not with an alluring smile, but, with a gun, and Jane hopped in the car and helped John flee, Jane’s lawyer can argue that she helped John escape justice only because she was under duress and that the court must dismiss her charge.

False accusation

We have found, as with other criminal defendants, that persons accused of being accessories after the fact are oftentimes falsely accused either by the “principal” (the person who committed the “original” felony, to begin with) or someone else, such as a person with a grudge or vendetta against our client. Our Torrance criminal defense attorneys will investigate the claims made against you to determine whether the witness(es) are being deceitful and levying a false accusation, in which case we will move aggressively for a dismissal.

Will I be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor?

An “accessory after the fact” charge is considered a “wobbler,” that is, a crime that the prosecution has the discretion of filing either as a felony or a misdemeanor. They will usually base their discretion to fil a California “accessory after the fact” charge as a felony or a misdemeanor on whether or not you have a criminal history and the particular facts of the case.

How harsh are the penalties for “accessory after the fact?

If you are convicted under Penal Code 32, you may be facing up to one year in the county jail (for a misdemeanor) or anywhere from 16 months to two years to three years in a California State Prison (for a felony) and up to a $5,000 fine.

Helpful Links

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Robert Ernenwein, an expert and experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, has over 30 years of experience defending persons accused of Accessory After the Fact. Mr. Ernenwein is a former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys and is Certified as a Criminal Law Specialist by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. He has been named as a “Super Lawyer” by Los Angeles Magazine and has appeared as a legal analyst on multiple cable news programs, including Fox News. The experience and capabilities Robert Ernenwein will bring to your Accessory After the Fact Defense are unmatched.