Accessory After the Fact

In California, Penal Code 32 PC defines accessory after the fact as any person who “after a felony has been committed, harbors, conceals or aids…in such felony” with the intent to help a person “escape from arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.” Accessory after the fact can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. If you or someone you know has been charged with being an accessory after the fact in Orange County, it is important that you contact an Orange County criminal defense lawyer immediately so that they can assess your case and provide next steps.

What is an Accessory After the Fact?

Penal Code section 30 states that there are two different types of parties to a crime:

  • Principals; and,
  • Accessories

A principal is anyone who contributes to the crime before it is committed or while it is being carried out. This includes not only the main actor in the crime, but also anyone who “aids and abets” the crime or anyone who participated before the crime was committed. “Aiders and abettors” are any people who know about the perpetrator’s unlawful purpose and either aid, facilitate, promote, encourage, or instigate the commission of the crime.

Anyone who is determined to be a principal is considered to have the same criminal intent as any other principal and therefore both the main actor and any “aiders and abettors” are all subject to the same charges and penalties.

There is no classification under California law of an “accessory before the fact,” therefore anyone who assists before or while the crime is being committed is considered to be a principal actor. Consequently, the only way that someone can be an “accessory after the fact” and thus not be classified as a principal and not be subject to the same charges and penalties as a principal, is if that person truly only acted after the crime had already been committed. If you have been accused of being an accessory after the fact, it is essential that you contact an experienced attorney in Orange County to assist you with your case.

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.

Legal Defenses

An experienced attorney in Orange County can fight accessory after the fact charges with a few different legal defense strategies. Some of these defenses may include:

  • No crime was actually committed
  • The defendant did not know that a crime was being committed
  • The defendant was forced to be an accessory to the crime through the use of threats or force (duress defense)
  • The defendant did not actually do anything, they were just a bystander

Penal Code section 32 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 a year in jail for a misdemeanor and up to three years for a felony.

Orange County defense attorney William Weinberg is an experienced lawyer in Orange County who has many years of experience defending clients charged in criminal cases. He will consider your case free of charge and advise you of your options. To reach him please contact his Irvine office at (949) 474-8008 or by emailing him at

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