Can you be charged for helping a murder even after the fact? Yes. There is a crime in California and other states called “accessory to murder”. Understanding what that crime is can be a little challenging.
An accessory is different from an accomplice or a conspirator. Some states separate accessory into two crimes: before the fact and after the fact. If you’re charged with accessory to murder in California, here’s what it means.
What Is an Accessory?
An accessory is someone who assists a murder before or after a felony crime and is usually not present when the crime happens. An “accessory before the fact” helps someone commit a crime before it happens, and the opposite for an “accessory after the fact”.
In a murder situation, an accessory before the fact might encourage someone to kill someone else. An accessory after the fact helps a murder after they’ve killed. This could be immediately after, like driving a getaway car or hiding the murder in your home. It could be loaning them money to flee the area, or disposing of the murder weapon.
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Aiding and Abetting in California
Accessory before the fact in California is known as “aiding and abetting”. It is practically the same as being an accomplice. If you are convicted of this crime, you could face the same penalties as the person who did the actual act. This will likely mean a lengthy prison sentence, possibly for life.
Aiding and abetting covers a wide range of behaviors. Under the text of the law, it is encouraging, aiding, facilitating, or inciting the felony. They could offer a weapon or drive them to the scene. Even simply yelling at someone to kill someone else in a fight could be accessory before the fact. It does not matter if it was in the heat of the moment.
In order to be convicted of aiding and abetting, the state must prove:
- You knew the person you helped (the principal offender) was going to commit a crime.
- The principal committed the felony.
- You did help them in some way.
- You weren’t acting under duress.
If all four of these can be proven, then the state has a good shot at making this charge stick.
Proving Accessory to Murder After the Fact
A different set of things must be proven for the charge of accessory for murder after the fact:
- Someone other than you committed a felony.
- You helped them in some way.
- You knew that they committed a felony or were convicted of one.
- You intended to help the felon escape justice (e.g. arrest, trial, etc.).
While accessory after the fact can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, it is quite likely to be charged as a felony in murder cases. If you are convicted of this crime, you could go to jail or state prison for up to three years and face a maximum fine of $5,000.
If the prosecutor decides to be lenient and charge it as a misdemeanor, you could face up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. If you have a criminal defense lawyer, they could try to argue that your contribution to the crime was minimal to persuade the court to go this way.
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What Is Conspiracy?
Conspiracy is somewhat similar to an accessory before the fact (aiding and abetting), but no crime needs to have taken place. In California, two things must be proven to convict someone of conspiracy.
- Two or more people need to agree to commit a crime.
- One or more of the people who agreed need to do something to move toward the act.
In a murder situation, this could be agreeing to help someone kill someone, then buying the weapon for the deed. Note that the actual murder doesn’t need to happen. Just the act of agreeing to do a crime and taking steps toward it makes it a conspiracy.