Accessory After the Fact
When a friend or loved one gets into trouble, the natural instinct may be to go any and all lengths to protect that person. In certain situations, however, this act can constitute a felony criminal offense. California Penal Code Section 32 defines what it is to be an “accessory after the fact.” A person violates Penal Code Section 32 when they help an individual who has committed a felony escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment. This offense is classified as a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Keep in mind that charges under California Penal Code § 32 involve any act to assist someone after they commit a felony. This is why the punishment for the “accessory” is typically much lighter than the principal they help. When there is premeditation or planning that is evident, prosecutors are more likely to view the facilitator as a “coconspirator” rather than an “accessory after the fact” and thus subject to punishment for the underlying offense. Meaning, the punishment is the same for the person that commits the crime as the person who is the accessory. Please read the website page on California Conspiracy charges for more details. A typical example of the severe punishment for the accessory would be the getaway driver or an accomplice who acts as a lookout during a robbery. This person will be punished the same as the person who commits the robbery.
In order to prove someone is guilty of California PC § 32, the prosecutor must be able to establish that the defendant knowingly harbored, concealed or aided a person with knowledge that the person had committed, was charged with, or was convicted of a felony and with purpose of protecting him or her from arrest, trial, conviction or sentencing. Prosecutors will consider a number of factors, such as the defendant’s presence or proximity to a crime scene, the relationship of the defendant to the principal, and the defendant’s knowledge of the underlying felony.
Accessory after the fact usually takes the form of acts such as hiding an offender, helping someone flee the scene of a crime, destroying evidence, or misleading law enforcement officials. There are a number of defenses that may apply, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. If the defendant did not have knowledge of the principal’s felony, or if there was no underlying felony, then there is no criminal liability under California Penal Code § 32. Additionally, there are many situations where the “accessory” is acting under duress or threats by the actual perpetrator, and has no choice but to comply in assisting them. Prosecutors will often take such circumstances into consideration.
Being an accessory after the fact in violation of California Penal Code Section 32 is a serious offense that can stem from a seemingly innocuous act. People who have never been in trouble before can find themselves suddenly charged with a felony because they thought they were doing the right thing and helping a loved one. Because of the gravity of the offense, if you are charged with a being an accessory after the fact, it is imperative that you have a skilled and knowledgeable defense attorney on your side. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former deputy district attorney who can effectively mount a defense to charges of accessory after the fact. In addition, in many cases Mr. Kraut can intervene and work with prosecuting and law enforcement agencies before charges are even considered to help prevent a criminal filing.
For more information about accessory after the fact, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.