What is an Accessory After the Fact?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 January 2020
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"Accessory after the fact" is a legal term that can be used to charge people who knowingly help a person who has committed a crime. Being charged with this crime may mean facing charges similar to the crime was that was committed by someone. For example, helping a murderer after he has committed a crime could make someone an accessory to murder, even if that person had nothing to do with the crime.

One of the reasons this charge exists, and it may be differently named or perceived differently in a variety of jurisdictions, is to discourage people from giving aid to those who commit crimes. There are a number of ways to get charged with accessory after the fact. A person could give a criminal money so he could escape the law, hide information about a crime so that the criminal is not charged, hide the actual criminal or in some way harbor and shelter him or her so that the person committing the crime avoids arrest and prosecution.


An important thing is needed for a prosecutor to win an accessory after the fact case, and sometimes it’s not obtainable. It must be proven the person facing this charge knew a crime had occurred. That isn’t always the case. If Mr. Smith picks up a hitchhiker and drops him off down the road without realizing the hitchhiker had just robbed an ATM machine, it would hard to make a case that Mr. Smith is an accessory. He had no knowledge of the crime.

More grey area occurs when family members are charged with accessory after the fact. It’s possible that in sheltering or giving aid to someone who is a criminal, a person does absolutely no wrong in the eyes of the law. It all hinges on whether the person aided or sheltered confesses to the crime or whether the family member has some knowledge of it outside of a confession. This is a difficult thing for many people because strong protective feelings often exist toward family, especially adult children, and many people want to help their family members avoid prosecution.

Ultimately, the cost is often too great for a family member to become an accessory after the fact. It could mean being charged and sentenced to serve in jail for about half of the time the person who committed the crime will serve.


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Post 2

I suppose allowing a drunk person to sleep it off in a spare room wouldn't be considered being an accessory after the fact, but not reporting a possible felony DUI after the fact might be problematic. I'd probably have to take a good look at my friend's car and maybe call the local police just to make sure he or she wasn't suspected of felony drunk driving or anything. I couldn't deny knowing his or her inebriated condition, but I wouldn't necessary know what he or she did on the way to my house.

Post 1

I've heard of law enforcement officers using the "accessory after the fact" statute as leverage against family members or friends of the suspect. It's usually in the person's best interest to tell what he or she knows rather than keep protecting the suspect. That must be really hard on parents or spouses, since they don't want to be the ones who ratted out their loved one to the police.

I'm not entirely sure how the prosecution could prove that a person knew a crime had been committed at the time the aid was rendered. If I'm a mechanic and a car comes in with front end damage, I don't know if I need to ask the driver if he or she had done something illegal. I wouldn't want to be charged with being an accessory after the fact if I made the repairs necessary to help that person elude the police.

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