CA Penal Code 32
Accessory After the Fact
Accessory After the Fact in California
Helping someone you know has committed a felony either avoid or escape authorities makes you criminally liable as an accessory after the fact.
This crime is known as a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Many factors may contribute to a prosecutor electing to charge the crime as a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor. For example, prosecutors take into consideration how egregious the crime was. Hiding someone in your home that has committed murder and lying to the police about your contact with that person and his or her whereabouts will most certainly be a felony. The acts you took to help the felon will also be factored into the prosecutor’s decision. Finally, they consider your criminal history, as well. If you have a long criminal record, the chances increase that you will be charge with accessory after the fact as a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.
Felony accessory after the fact punishments include a year and a half in prison, in addition to a $5,000 fine. For misdemeanors, the punishment may be a year in prison, in addition to the same fine.
Being an accessory is less serious than helping someone plan or commit a felony but it is serious nonetheless. Examples of being an accessory to a crime include lying to the police, providing false alibis, harboring the felon in your home, letting them borrow your car to escape, hiding the stolen goods, and many other acts.
This crime is also to be distinguished from other similar crimes, such as obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting. Obstructing justice is one that involves a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. So, for helping a friend escape punishment for a misdemeanor, you cannot be charged with being an accessory after the fact. Likewise, aiding and abetting is the assisting of another in planning or committing the crime, as described above. Aiding and abetting can result in your being charged for the actual crime itself, as well.
Penalties for committing this crime may include:
- Up to a year in jail if the offense is charged as a misdemeanor
- Up to three years in prison if charged as a felony
Prosecuting Accessory After the Fact
The prosecutor must prove:
- A felony has been committed;
- You knew it was committed or charged or convicted;
- You hid the felon or illegally aided the felon; and
- You intended to help the felon avoid trial, arrest, or punishment.
Aiding includes lying, driving a getaway car, destroying evidence, or misleading authorities.
Each of the above elements must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt for you to be convicted of this crime. There must be a unity of action and intention in order to be convicted. This means you must have intended to aid the felon in escaping punishment, and you also must have done something to further that goal.
Defending Accessory After the Fact
Defending a charge of PC 32 requires the skills of a successful criminal defense attorney. Your attorney may claim you acted under duress, such that you only aided the felon because you were trying to avoid immediate harm.
Your attorney may also be able to show you did not know you were providing aid, or that you did know the person you were aiding had committed a felony.
It is not illegal to refuse to give authorities incriminating information, but providing false information does violate the accessory statute.
California courts have acknowledged that it is not enough to even be aware that the person has committed other crimes. That still does not make you an accessory, because there needs to be evidence that you intentionally helped the felon avoid arrest, trial, or conviction for those crimes.
We Want to Help
If you or a loved one is being charged with being an Accessory After the Fact in violation of PC 32 in California, we invite you to contact us immediately for a free case review. Schedule an appointment to meet with us in person, or feel free to submit an evaluation online and we will get in contact with you ASAP. We can provide a free consultation in our office located in Century City, or by phone.
Our experienced and assiduous attorneys will be sure to fight until the end to reduce or drop your charges completely.
Call Us for a FREE Case Review: 310-274-6529