Criminal law casts a wide net. People who commit wrongful acts are quite obviously open to potential prosecution, but those who are loosely associated can also find themselves in trouble. Some of the most common ways in which people can be implicated is through conspiracy laws, through accessory laws, and through harboring a fugitive laws. Accessory after the fact is a law that punishes people who in some way assist in a crime after it’s already been completed. The lines can often be blurry when dealing with this statute, which is why good criminal defense lawyers often help clients find their way out of these situations.
What is accessory after the fact?
The easiest definition of accessory after the fact is helping a person avoid detection or arrest after they have committed a felony. There is an important element to this crime that must be included, however. One has only committed the crime of accessory after the fact if he or she knows that a felony has been committed. You can only be prosecuted for this crime if you’re helping a felon, and you do so with the requisite knowledge. In some cases, the police will arrest accessories and prosecutors will charge the crime without the requisite mental state. This means that courtroom fights over accessory charges will often key on the knowledge of the defendant. If you were just helping a friend and you didn’t know that he committed a felony, then you have not committed a crime yourself.
Only applies to felony crimes
There is no accessory after the fact for people assisting those who have committed a misdemeanor. If your friend is about to be arrested for smoking a small amount of weed, for instance, you couldn’t be charged with accessory for helping him in some way. It can at times be difficult to know the line between felonies and misdemeanors. In general, felonies are more serious crimes, and involve more jail time. If something involves violence or weapons, you can bet that it’s a felony. For people trying to keep themselves within the law, it may be best to err on the side of caution. Avoid helping any person you know has committed a crime.
What does it mean to assist a person?
Any act that seeks to help a person avoid arrest or punishment can be considered accessory after the fact. This means that driving your brother out of state so police officers can’t find him might be accessory after the fact. Helping to flush evidence to lower punishment might also be considered accessory after the fact.
In some cases, accessories can also be charged with obstruction of justice. When the accessory gets in the way of an investigation or intentionally sabotages that investigation, they can face additional charges. In many cases, accessory after the fact will be charged alongside obstruction of justice when accessories lie either about their role or about the activities of the person they are helping.
Potential punishment for accessory after the fact
In New York, accessory after the fact can usually be charged as providing aid to someone in trying to avoid law enforcement. This is a felony that can carry as much time as the underlying offense committed by the other person. There are also federal laws in play. If you are assisting a person who is wanted by federal law enforcement, then your role as an accessory can earn federal charges. It is a serious crime that demands a serious defense if you ever find yourself trapped in the web of either federal or state level law enforcement.