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What Does It Mean If You Are An 'Accessory After the Fact?'

When someone commits a crime, their next steps may involve trying to avoid arrest. And those who help a suspected criminal in avoiding capture or arrest can be charged as an “accessory after the fact.” While being charged as an accessory is not the same as the charges the suspected criminal is facing, it is still very serious.

Who Can Be Found Guilty of Being an Accessory After the Fact?

For you to be found guilty of being an accessory after the fact, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You knew the person committed, was charged with or was convicted of a felony
  • You destroyed evidence, hid, helped, or lied to police and/or prosecutors for that person

However, some factors that can work in your favor when mounting a defense can include proving:

  • Your absence at the crime scene
  • Your lack of knowledge of the crime or criminal
  • Your relationship (or lack thereof) you have with that person

Knowledge of a Felony

This can be difficult to prove because the prosecution must show that you had actual knowledge of the crime. Just suspecting that the felony was committed is not enough.

Say your spouse calls you and tells you to bring them a new change of clothes. You do, and later they are charged with a felony. Since you did not know about the crime and did not think you were helping someone avoid felony charges, you may have a viable defense.

In another example, you find a gun, and you know that the gun was illegally in the possession of Bob, who you know is a felon. However, you don’t know that Bob has recently used the gun in a murder when he asks you to help destroy the gun.

In this case, you couldn’t be charged as an accessory after the fact to murder since you didn’t know that the gun was used in the murder. However, you could still be charged with being an accessory after the fact regarding the gun violation, because you knew that Bob was already a convicted felon who shouldn’t have owned a gun.

Knowledge of Felon’s Identity

The prosecution must also show that you knew the felon personally. That doesn’t necessarily mean knowing the felon’s name. You just have to know the identity. For example, if you see a robber escaping and decide to help them hide from the police, then you might be charged as an accessory after the fact.

Giving False Information

Finally, you must actively try to hide the felon or lie to the police. Refusing to provide information is not enough to be charged.

But in some states, giving false information with the intent of diverting suspicion is enough to be charged as an accomplice (meaning you’re charged with whatever the felon is charged with).

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