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Accessory After the Fact Laws in California – Penal Code 32

Posted by Philip Israels | Oct 14, 2019

The criminal offense of “accessory after the fact” is described under California Penal Code Section 32. This statute makes it a crime to harbor, conceal, or aid another person you know committed a felony – or if you help them to avoid arrest, trial, or being convicted.

In other words, an accessory after the fact is someone with knowledge that someone else has committed a crime – yet they assist them from being arrested.

An example of an accessory after the fact crime could occur in a situation somebody commits an armed robbery at a convince store.  After the crime, the robber drives over to a friend's house to hide from police and tells him he just robbed the store. His friend decides to help him avoid being captured from police.

He provides money, loans his car, and even helps his friend get rid of the weapon used in the crime.

Yet another example of an accessory after the fact crime occurs when somebody allows another person to remain in their home to avoid be captured by police knowing they have an outstanding felony warrant for their arrest.

A violation of Penal Code 32 could also occur if someone allows another person to keep their vehicle in their garage knowing it was used to commit a felony crime.

No Duty to Report to Law Enforcement

It should be noted there is no legal duty to report – meaning you can't be guilty of Penal Code 32 accessory after the fact crime if you know a crime was committed – but fail to report it to law enforcement.

If you are simply present when somebody commits a crime, you are not necessarily committing an accessory after the fact crime.  Also, if you are unaware a crime was committed, but innocently provide aid to the person who committed the crimes, you can't be held criminally liable.

It should also be noted that that Penal Code 32, accessory after the fact, is different from Penal Code 31, aiding and abetting – because an “aider and abettor” is someone who actually participates in committing a crime.

Definition of Penal Code 32 Accessory After the Fact

California Penal Code 32 PC defines accessory after the fact as:

  • Anyone who after a felony was been committed, harbors, conceals or aids someone in the felony, with intent for them to avoid escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment, knowing they committed a felony, or has been charged with a felony or convicted, is an accessory to the felony.

 In simple terms, accessory after the fact means you provided assistance to somebody to avoid being arrested after they committed a crime – but you didn't actually participate in the crime itself.

In order to obtain a conviction for PC 32 accessory after the fact, the prosecutor must be able to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – all the “elements of the crime” listed under CALCRIM 440 Jury instructions:

  • Someone committed a felony crime;
  • You knew they committed a felony, or they were charged or convicted of a felony;
  • You knowingly harbored, concealed, or aided them after a felony was committed;
  • Your intent was to help them avoid or escape arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.

The prosecutor will normally review all factors to determine if you have met all these conditions. This would include the type of relationship you have with the suspect, and whether you were somewhere present when the crime was committed.

For example, did you help them flee the scene of the crime? Did you assist in destroying physical evidence? Did you lie to police or help them hide from law enforcement?

What are the Legal Penalties?

Penal Code 32 accessory after the fact is a “wobbler,” meaning the prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony.

If you convicted of a PC 32 misdemeanor, you will be facing up to one year in a county jail. If convicted of a PC 32 felony crime, you will be facing 16 months to 3 years in a California state prison. You could also face a fine up to $5,000.

If the underlying felony was a crime of moral turpitude, or some other deportable offense, you could face deportation if you are an undocumented immigrant.

Fighting PC 32 Accessory After the Fact Charges

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a wide range of strategies to defend you against charges of accessory after the fact defined under Penal Code Section 32.

Lack of knowledge

Our lawyers might be able to make an argument you didn't know the person had committed a felony crime. Perhaps you may have concealed them, but simply had no knowledge a felony crime had been committed. If we cast reasonable doubt, you could have a chance at avoiding a conviction.

Felony crime was not committed

An element of the crime for an accessory after the fact charge requires that a felony crime was committed. Perhaps we could show it was only a misdemeanor offense, meaning you can't be guilty of being a PC 32 accessory after the fact.

Lack of intent

We might be able to prove you didn't intend to help them avoid arrest. Perhaps you were just an innocent bystander. If we can show you didn't harbor, conceal or aid someone with intent to help them avoid arrest and punishment, you can't be guilty of this crime. Again, it's important to remember that just failing to report a crime – or refusal to provide information – or even denying a crime because you don't to get involved, does not qualify as an accessory after the fact offense.

Duress or coercion

We might be able to make an argument that while you did commit an accessory after the fact crime, you only did so under duress or coercion from the person who committed the crime. The term “duress” means you acted because someone made credible threats to harm or kill you if you don't do what you are told.

If you have been accused of Penal Code 32 accessory after the fact, you should consult with the Los Angeles criminal defense law firm of Cron, Israels & Stark to review the details and options.

You should not make any statements to police as they can be used against you later in court. We need to closely examine every details to determine a defense strategy to obtain the best possible resolution on your case.

We serve clients throughout Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles area and the San Fernando Valley. Call our law firm for a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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