Accessory After the Fact

Accessory After the FactThe Law on Accessory After the Fact

Also known as AATF, California Penal Code Sec 32 defines the criminal act known as being an accessory after the fact. The crime is committed by an individual assisting another person after the commission of a felony. This asasistance may be either aiding to evade from arrest, trial, conviction and/or punishment.


The following are the elements of the crime of being an accessory after the fact:

  • An individual committed a felony offense
  • The person accused of the crime of aiding and abetting knowingly harbored, concealed or aided that felony offender
  • The accessory knew the following:
    • The person aided committed the felony
    • The person aided was charged with the felony
    • The person aided was convicted of the felony
  • The accessory did the offense to protect the individual to evade arrest, trial, conviction and/or sentencing.

When being charged of the crime of being an accessory after the fact, the prosecutors can try the case either as a misdemeanor or felony offense depending on the factual circumstances of the case and the criminal history of the accused. For a misdemeanor offense, the convicted individual would need to pay $5,000 as fines and spend as much as one year in county jail. For a felony conviction, the individual would need to pay $5,000 fine and between sixteen to thirty six months in state prison.

There are fine distinctions that need to be known regarding this criminal offense. When the individual was part of the planning and agreeing to the commission of the crime, the individual would not fall within the legal definition of being an accessory but would be considered as an aider, abettor or co-conspirator. There are also no accessories after the fact in misdemeanor offenses.

In conviction, the court considers the following factors:

  • The proximity of the defendant at the crime scene;
  • The knowledge of the defendant about the felony committed;
  • The defendant's relationship to the principal, both before and after the offense;

The common instances that this crime is committed is through any of the following acts:

  • Concealment of evidence
  • Lying to the Policy
  • Destruction of Evidence
  • Driving the Getaway vehicle¬†

Many think that aiding and abetting is a criminal offense in itself. It is, in the state of California, the legal maxim that allows the prosecution of an individual who had knowledge of the commission of an offense. These individuals need not be direct participants in the crime, just the knowledge would make them liable under the law.

The crime is committed in any of the ways described as follows:

  • For knowledge of the illegal plan of the perpetrators;
  • For intentionally encourage and/or facilitate the performance of such crime;
  • For aiding, promoting or instigating the commission of the crime;

The encouragement need not be a separate act in itself or in advance. The criminal acts can be committed instantaneous to the commission of the planned crime. If one comes to information about the commission of the crime and encourages, facilitates or promotes its commission, the offense attaches because of the theory of accomplice liability. Furthermore, there is no requirement that the conduct be substantive in the commission of the offense as the liability attaches even if the act is slight. The criminal liability also attaches to individuals who may not be capable of committing the planned crime.

This goes into the difference between conspiracy and aiding and abetting. In conspiracy, there must be an agreement to participate in the commission of the criminal offense while in aiding and abetting, there need not be an actual agreement between the individual committing the offense and the others aiding and abetting its commission.

As a matter of criminal procedure, the prosecutor does not charge the individual with aiding and abetting. What is actually done is that the individual aiding and abetting would be charged with the same crime. Oftentimes, the aider/abettor would be charged as an accomplice, depending on specific circumstances. These circumstances include proximity to the scene of the crime, relationship with the principals and their conduct before or after the commission of the offense.

Another concept included in this provision is the legal duty of every individual to report the future or actual commission of a crime. Each individual has the legal duty to take every step reasonable possible in the prevention of the commission of the crime. Failure to do such with the knowledge of such crime would be liability as an aider and abettor to the crime. This legal duty differs according to the status of the individual in society. Each individual though has the duty to prevent a crime being committed and failure to reasonably do so would make them liable as an accomplice.

The penalties imposable under this Section of the California Penal Code depend on the factual circumstances in the crime committed that was aided and abetted. When the aid provided before the commission of the offense, then the individual would be liable as an accessory before the fact or principal to the crime. There is an exception to this though in murder offenses as the aider and abettor may have committed more offenses than the actual perpetrator of the offense.

Another fact looked into in this offense are the natural and probable consequences of the act's of the actual perpetrator aided and abetted. These results make the aider and abettor equally responsible for any other crimes that were committed aside from the actual crime aided and abetted.