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What Is an Accessory After the Fact? | Examples, Penalties & More

An accessory-after-the-fact is a person who assists someone who has previously committed a crime with the knowledge that the person committed the crime, and with the intent to help that person avoid punishment for the crime.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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How is Accessory of Fact Proven?

For a person to be convicted of being an accessory after the fact, prosecutors must show that:

  • Someone else committed a felony offense
  • The defendant knew that the perpetrator had committed a felony, or been charged or convicted of one
  • After the commission of the felony, the defendant harbored, concealed, or aided the perpetrator, and
  • The defendant intended that the perpetrator avoid or escape arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.

Examples of Accessory After the Fact

Examples of an accessory after the fact include intentionally misleading or lying to police, giving a false alibi for another person, helping another person hide evidence, and destroying evidence related to a crime.

What is the Penalty for Being an Accessory After the Fact?

In most states, an accessory after the fact is a wobbler, which means that it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor will base their charging decisions on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. If convicted, penalties can involve either up to 1 year in jail for a misdemeanor and up to 3 years for a felony.

What is Accessory Before the Fact?

An accessory before the fact refers to an individual who aids, abets, or encourages another person to commit a crime but who is not actually present during the commission of the crime. Often known simply as an accomplice, an accessory before the fact may be held criminally responsible to the same degree as the principal.

What is the Difference Between an Accessory Before the Fact and an Accessory After the Fact?

A person is an accessory before the fact if they aid or encourage someone else to commit a crime. While an accessory after the fact helps a criminal after they commit a crime, an accessory before the fact helps the criminal either before or during the commission of the crime.

Is There a Difference Between an Accomplice and an Accessory Before the Fact?

One of the key distinctions between an accomplice and an accessory is that an accomplice is typically present at the scene of a crime while an accessory is not. Other elements of accountability that are weighed in evaluating one’s degree of involvement include:

  • Knowledge of the principal perpetrator’s intent
  • Providing necessary knowledge, equipment, or motivation
  • Giving the principal assistance before, during, or after the commission of a crime

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