It is illegal to offer assistance to someone who has committed a felony in California. The state uses California Penal Code §32: Accessory After the Fact to prosecute individuals who might help someone avoid the authorities after the commission of a crime such as grand theft or robbery.
There are serious legal consequences for PC 32 violations. Find out more about this charge and its function in the California legal system with our Los Angeles grand theft lawyer. We help California residents prepare their defense against this charge, collect evidence, and protect their rights.
California’s Definition of California Penal Code §32: Accessory After the Fact
To be found guilty under PC 32, an individual must hide or illegally aid the perpetrator of a felony while intending to ensure the perpetrator does not face:
- An arrest
- A trial
- Another form of legal punishment
This includes harboring a felon, concealing their presence or activities, or otherwise offering assistance to help the felon evade justice. Accessory after-the-fact charges should only apply if someone is aware that the perpetrator:
- Committed a felony offense
- Was charged with a felony crime
- Was convicted of a felony crime
Individuals may be charged with accessory after the fact if they help the perpetrator of a felony in any way. The state may utilize PC 32 charges against someone who:
- Destroys Evidence of a Felony
- Drives the Perpetrator Away from the Scene of the Felony
- Hides the Perpetrator
- Lies to Authorities for the Perpetrator
Refusing to testify against a felon in a criminal trial, however, does not make you an accessory after the fact in California.
PC 32 violations can be closely tied to other charges, including:
- California Penal Code §§132 & 134
- California Penal Code §135
- California Penal Code §182
- California Penal Code §664
- California Penal Code §31
Examples of California’s PC 32 Violations
The following examples can help you understand accessory after-the-fact charges:
A man enters a home and commits burglary. He sets the alarm and worries that the police are after him, so he goes to his girlfriend’s house, tells her what happened, and asks her to say he was with her all night. When the police arrive to question her, she lies about his whereabouts. She could be convicted under PC 32.
A man steals a car and takes it to a storage facility in town, where he rents a unit and hides the vehicle. The owner of the storage facility would not be charged with accessory after the fact for helping the perpetrator hide the vehicle because they did not know the car had been stolen.
In these and countless other examples, it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to understand your rights and obligations.
Factors That Lead to Statutory Penalties Following Charges of Accessory in California
When determining the statutory penalties for charges of being an accessory in California, several factors come into play. Specific penalties can vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. The following factors can influence the statutory penalties for accessory charges in California:
Misdemeanor Vs. Felony Charges
Accessory charges can be prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the severity of the offense and other factors. Misdemeanor charges generally carry less severe penalties compared to felony charges, sometimes as small as formal probation.
Specific Circumstances of the Accessory
The nature and extent of the assistance provided by the accessory can impact the penalties. If the assistance was limited, the penalties may be less severe.
However, if the accessory played a significant role in aiding the perpetrator or if the assistance involved additional criminal acts, such as destroying evidence or lying to authorities, the penalties may be more severe.
Prior Criminal History
The defendant’s prior criminal history is an important consideration in determining penalties. If the defendant has a history of previous convictions, especially for similar offenses or crimes involving moral turpitude, it can lead to harsher penalties.
Level of Knowledge and Intent
The defendant’s level of knowledge and intent to aid the perpetrator is another factor. Suppose the defendant knowingly and intentionally assisted with the full awareness that they were helping someone evade justice. In that case, it can lead to more severe penalties compared to situations where the defendant’s involvement was unwitting or coerced.
The harm caused by the underlying felony offense can also influence the penalties. If the underlying felony resulted in significant harm or loss, it may be considered an aggravating factor that leads to harsher penalties for the accessory.
Plea Bargains and Mitigating Factors
In some cases, plea bargains may be negotiated between the prosecution and the defense, resulting in reduced charges or lesser penalties. Additionally, the presence of mitigating factors, such as cooperation with law enforcement or remorse, may lead to more lenient penalties.
It’s important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand how these factors apply to a specific case. These factors can increase the chances of imprisonment in county jail, especially if it is counted as a strike offense.
The Penalties for a PC 32 Conviction
Individuals who are convicted of accessory after the fact can face either misdemeanor or felony charges. A felony PC 32 charge will generally come with more severe penalties. In order to decide whether PC 32 violations should be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, prosecutors generally look at:
- The Specific Circumstances of the PC 32 Violation
- The Individual’s Prior Criminal History
Both misdemeanor and felony convictions can lead to fines of up to $5,000. Accessory after-the-fact convictions can also lead to:
- Misdemeanor Accessory After the Fact: 1 Year in Jail
- Felony Accessory After the Fact: 3 Years in Prison
Misdemeanor convictions can be expunged in the future, but felony convictions generally cannot. Individuals can get help handling both misdemeanor and felony accessory after-the-fact charges by contacting a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer immediately.
California Penal Code Section 32: Accessory After the Fact Charges and Legal Defenses
Several common defenses can be used legally to handle PC 32 charges in California. Individuals who work with a criminal defense lawyer may be able to build a defense if:
They Were Forced to Offer Assistance to the Perpetrator
Sometimes, individuals commit a felony and then threaten someone else to help them escape. You should not be convicted of accessory after the fact if you helped a perpetrator to protect your safety or the safety of your family.
They Were Unaware They Were Aiding the Perpetrator of a Felony
No one should be convicted of accessory after the fact if they did not realize they were helping the perpetrator of a felony. For example, if you offer a hitchhiker a ride and later find out that they just committed armed robbery, you should not face charges under PC 32.
Similarly, if the individual is known to you, but you were not aware they had committed a felony act, that can be a valid defense against California Penal Code Section 32: Accessory After the Fact charges.
Contacting a criminal defense lawyer immediately after you are charged under PC 32 can allow you to get additional information about defenses to this charge.
Get Help Dealing with Accessory After-the-Fact Charges
A conviction under California Penal Code §32: Accessory After the Fact can lead to high fines and even a lengthy period of incarceration. The Simmrin Law Group can help you fight against these charges. Contact us today by calling or filling out our online contact form.
Get professional help on your side with a FREE consultation about your legal needs. Our team can evaluate your case and support you by investigating the incident, preparing for court, and ensuring you know your rights.