This is a crime under California Penal Code Section 32 that I see charged once in a while where somebody commits a serious felony and another person knows that they committed that felony and they somehow help them after the fact. In other words, they harbor them, they conceal them.
Those are the legal terms. They let them in their home and help them hide from law enforcement and hide from being captured and prosecuted for the offense. Maybe they give him a car, or some money – there are all sorts of ways that you can aid someone who has committed a crime.
Of course, a defense to this would be that you didn't know that the person committed a crime. You had no idea.
You're helping them because they are your family member, a friend, an acquaintance, someone you know from work, and you're helping them because they asked for help and you didn't know that they committed a crime.
Reasonable Belief You Knew Someone Committed a Crime
But, if the police can prove that you knew or reasonably should have known that this person had committed a crime and you helped them in some way to hide from the police, help them escape from prosecution, then they're going to charge you with accessory after the fact. This is a serious crime.
Another thing that I see is that people will be there when a crime occurs. For example, let's say a number of people are in a car together and somebody ends up pulling a gun out and shooting at another person.
Technically, anybody in the car – if they were involved with what was going on – whether it was a fight, whether it was a gang situation – then they can all be charged with not accessory after the fact, but actually with the crime of shooting at the vehicle if they were an aider or abettor.
Aiding and Abetting
Sometimes it's close whether it's an accessory after the fact situation or an aid or abettor situation. Obviously, the accessory after the fact is a much better crime because it doesn't come with as much punishment and it's not as serious as the principal offense that occurred.
So, the question sometimes becomes what's the dividing line between being an accessory after the fact and actually being as responsible as the person who committed the felony. It is sometimes a murky dividing line.
A lot of times what I see happen is technically, the prosecutors do have an argument that the person is involved as an aider and abettor, but there's also some evidence and some information that maybe a person didn't know in our example that the person had a gun, a fight was going to break out, and it was more of a spontaneous act, and the prosecutors might originally charge the person with crime of shooting at the vehicle, but then maybe they'll change the charge to accessory after the fact, which is obviously not as serious and doesn't come with as many consequences as the original crime.
Where I'm seeing accessory after the fact charged a lot in Los Angeles is in these big serious crimes where someone is committing a crime where they're looking at life in prison or many, many years in prison and another person – usually their family member – is helping them because they love them, and they don't want to see them get caught by law enforcement and prosecuted.
Consult with a Criminal Lawyer Immediately
So, if you're charged with accessory after the fact, it's important that you talk to a criminal defense attorney before you talk to the police, because a lot of times by talking to the police, you give them the evidence they need in order to lock you in for an accessory after the fact charge versus if you would have spoken to an attorney first, you could have got your strategy together and maybe you don't talk to the police at all.
Maybe instead you keep your mouth shut and let your attorney talk to the police or prosecutors for you. This way you don't incriminate yourself. This way you don't take away potential defenses that you could utilize in the case.
I've been doing this for twenty-five years, and one of the biggest things that I see is people – when they talk to the police, whether it be about an accessory after the fact charge – or any other criminal charge in Los Angeles – they take away defenses and they provide evidence that is later going to be used to prosecute them, and this is some of the strongest evidence that the prosecutors can get because it's coming from the person's own mouth.
It's very difficult to refute when you admit something that is necessary to get you for a crime. If on the other hand, you keep your mouth shut, then they have nothing to use against you that you gave them and they're going to have to rely on the state of the evidence and their own investigation and a lot of times there's problems with that.
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