Accessory to Murder In California
If you’re being investigated for or have been charged with accessory to murder in California, it’s important to get legal help right away. Learn what accessory to murder is in California, how you can be convicted, the punishment that comes with a conviction, and how a criminal defense lawyer can help.
Anyone who conceals, aids, or harbors a murderer, knowing that a principal offender has committed a murder, is an accessory to that murder. In California, those convicted of accessory to murder are absentees at the crime scene but have a direct connection with the principal offender before or after the crime was committed.
If, in any case, you assisted before a crime, you may be tried for accessory before the fact. This usually happens if someone conspired with the murderer and helped plan the murder. If you were not present at the crime scene but assisted after, you may be charged with accessory after the fact.
While both charges carry serious consequences, you should never talk with law enforcement or anyone else without consulting with a criminal defense lawyer at Silver Law Firm. From investigation to the final trial and potential appeals, your attorney will need a formidable presence to represent your best interests.
What Is Accessory to Murder?
California penal code 32 pc defines accessory to murder as every person who, after the commission of a felony, harbors, conceals, or aids the offender, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that he has committed the felony and with the intent that he may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.
You could be an accessory to murder even if you did not directly participate in the killing. You could be charged as an accessory if you helped the killer before or after the crime. If you drove the getaway car or disposed of the murder weapon, you can be charged as an accessory.
Who is an Accomplice?
Also known as aiders and abettors, accomplices are people who help another person commit a crime. An accomplice can be charged with the same crime as the person who committed the crime.
An accomplice is anyone who, knowing that a felony will be committed, willfully and with criminal intent, aids, abets, advises, or encourages another person to commit the felony.
An accomplice is criminally liable for the underlying offense and any natural and probable consequences of that underlying offense. The key difference between accessories and accomplices is that an accessory does not need to be present at the crime scene, whereas an accomplice must be present.
An accomplice can be charged with the same offense as the person who committed the crime. For example, if two people help plan and carry out a robbery, and someone is killed during the robbery, both robbers can be charged with first-degree murder, even though only one actually killed the victim.
Common Purpose Doctrine
In any criminal case, the intent of the perpetrator is critical. If two or more people agree to commit a crime, they are said to have formed a “common purpose.” The common purpose doctrine allows prosecutors to charge all group members with the same crime, even if only one group member committed the crime.
For example, if five people agree to rob a bank, and one of the robbers kills a guard during the robbery, all five can be charged with first-degree murder, even though only one killed the victim.
The common purpose doctrine is also called the “natural and probable consequences” doctrine. This is because if two or more people agree to commit a crime, they are responsible for any crimes that are the natural and probable consequences of the crime they agreed to commit.
Is Being an Accessory to Murder a Crime in California?
California’s state laws define murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought can be defined as the intent to kill without provocation or justification. You can be charged as an accessory to first or second-degree murder in California. First-degree murder characterizes a deliberate and willful killing, while second-degree murder does not require forethought or planning.
Accessory to murder is a severe crime in California. It falls under the aiding and abetting law, which states that anyone who knowingly, by act or omission, aids, abets, counsels, or encourages another person in the commission of a crime can be charged as an accessory.
For someone to be charged with accessory to murder, they must have had knowledge that the principal offender was going to commit murder and did something to help them do it.
What is an Accessory Before the Fact?
Criminal liability can outstretch anyone who helps before the crime is committed. In California, you are considered an accessory before the fact if you help plan or encourage someone to commit a crime. In fact, you can be charged as an accessory before the fact if you participated in the following:
- You purchased the murder weapon
- You drove the getaway car
- You hired the principal offender to commit a crime
- You helped dispose of evidence
- You failed to prevent a crime when you had the legal duty to prevent it
- You acted as a lookout
- You offered the information required to commit the crime
- You prevented police officers from accessing a crime scene
When you are an accessory before the fact to a crime, you will be charged under the state’s aiding and abetting laws. These laws state that anyone who helps another person commit a crime has criminal liability for the offense. However, the prosecutor must prove the following elements before conviction:
- You knew that a crime was going to be committed
- Your conduct lent moral or financial support to the crime
- You intended to help or encourage the principal offender to commit the crime
- The principal offender went on to commit the crime.
Fighting Charges of Accessory Before the Fact
Whether you participated in the crime or not, you can face a charge or conviction as an accessory before the fact. The penalties can be harsh, often similar to the sentence of the principal offender. However, working with a criminal defense attorney by your side can help you build a strong defense against accessory before the fact charges in California.
Your attorney will need to prove that you either did not have the requisite intent or that you had no knowledge of the crime. Common defenses to accessory before the fact charges include:
1. No knowledge of the crime
Before being sentenced as an accessory, the prosecution must prove that you knew about the crime. If you did not know that a crime would be committed, you cannot be an accessory before the fact. This can often be difficult to prove, which is why it is crucial to have an attorney by your side who knows how to investigate these types of crimes.
2. You did not have the requisite intent.
For you to be an accessory before the fact, the prosecution must also show that you had the requisite intent. This means that you specifically intended to help or encourage another person in the commission of a crime. If you did not have this intent, you are not an accessory before the fact.
3. False accusations
In some cases, you may have been wrongfully accused of accessory before the fact. This can happen when someone makes a false accusation against you or when the police mistakenly identify you as an accessory before the fact. If this is the case, your attorney will work to investigate the false accusation and clear your name.
4. Withdrew from the crime
You may also argue that you withdrew from the crime. However, you can only use this defense if you make a reasonable and substantial effort to prevent the crime from happening. You must also show that you communicated this withdrawal to the principal offender.
What is an Accessory After the Fact?
An accessory after the fact is anyone who knows that a crime has been committed and gives shelter, comfort, or aid to the criminal to help them avoid arrest and prosecution. This illegal accessory act after the fact is prohibited under California Penal Code Section 32 and punishable by law.
Despite accessory after the fact being a crime, many people still commit this act without any realization of having done anything wrong. For instance, you could face charges of accessory after the fact if you:
- Hid or harbored a criminal
- Destroyed evidence that could have been used against the criminal in court
- Convinced a witness to change their story or not testify against the criminal
- Helped the criminal escape from law enforcement
- Provided false information to the police about a criminal’s whereabouts
- Offer any form of help
You cannot be accessory after the fact to a crime that you did not know was committed. For example, if you unknowingly provide shelter to a criminal on the run from the police, you have not committed a crime. Accessory after the fact is only illegal when you know that a crime has been committed and you still help the criminal avoid arrest or prosecution.
Accessory after the fact can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in California, depending on the severity of the crime. But before conviction, your prosecutor must prove that you had the required intent and knowledge when committing accessory after the fact. Here are elements of the crime that the prosecutor must prove for you to be successfully convicted:
- The principal offender must have committed the crime
- After the principal offender committed a crime, you unlawfully helped or concealed them
- You knew that the principal offender had committed a crime, convicted, wanted by authorities, or charged for committing the crime
- You had the intent to help the offender avoid or escape arrest, trial, or punishment for their crime
Accessory to Murder Charges
In any accessory to a murder case, the charges and possible punishments that the accessory faces will depend on the severity of the crime. If you are an accessory after the fact, the penalties will be much less severe.
According to Penal Code 32 PC, accessory after the fact is a wobbler offense in California. This means that the prosecutor can charge it as a misdemeanor or felony depending on your criminal history and the facts of your case.
If convicted of a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $5,000. If convicted of a felony, you face 16 months, two or three years in state prison and/ or a maximum fine of $5,000.
However, if the accessory after the fact is related or married to the offender, they will face harsher penalties. If you are convicted of being an accessory to your spouse or domestic partner, you face a sentence of two, three, or four years in state prison.
Additionally, if the accessory after the fact is the offender’s parent, grandparent, child, brother, or sister, they will face a sentence of three, four, or five years in state prison.
Meanwhile, the penalties will be more severe if you are an accessory before the fact. If you are convicted of accessory before the fact, you face the same sentence as the offender.
This means that you would also be sentenced to life in prison if the offender faces a life sentence.
In most states, a first-degree accessory charge is punishable by up to life in prison or the death penalty to both the accessory and the offender.
A second-degree accessory charge is punishable by life on probation, a fine of up to $10,000, or a life imprisonment sentence. The sentence can apply to the offender and the accessory before the act.
Third-degree accessory charges are punishable by up to 15 years for both the accessory and offender.
Other charges that might put you on trial as an accessory after the fact are obstructing justice by destroying evidence, obstructing law enforcers in the line of duty, being found in possession of stolen property, and perjury. In a case where you helped a criminal escape to evade arrest after the principal offender’s arrest, you could face trial for accessory after the fact of escape.
Hire an Experienced Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney
When hiring a criminal defense attorney, it is crucial to choose someone who is experienced and has a good understanding of California accessory laws.
An accessory to murder charge can be complicated, and there are many possible defenses that an experienced Oakland accessory defense lawyer can raise on your behalf. Therefore, if you or someone you know has been charged with accessory to murder, Elliot Silver of Silver Law Firm can help.
He has successfully defended many clients who have been accused of accessory to murder and will do everything he can to help you get the best possible outcome in your case. schedule a free and confidential consultation by Calling (510) 995-0000 today or fill out our online contact form.