accessory after the fact | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee

An accessory after the fact is a person who helps another person who has committed a crime to avoid arrest or prosecution.

According to the United States Criminal Code (18 U.S. Code § 3), an accessory after the fact is defined as:

“Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.”

Under federal law, the prescribed punishment is:

“an accessory after the fact shall be imprisoned not more than one-half the maximum term of imprisonment or (notwithstanding section 3571) fined not more than one-half the maximum fine prescribed for the punishment of the principal, or both; or if the principal is punishable by life imprisonment or death, the accessory shall be imprisoned not more than 15 years.”

An individual can be charged with this offense if they knew that a crime had been committed and intentionally provided assistance to the perpetrator with the intent to help them avoid prosecution. The charge is typically a separate offense from the original crime, and carries its own set of penalties.

This concept has a long history in Anglo-American law and is considered an important tool for ensuring that those who aid and abet criminal activity are held accountable for their actions. In many jurisdictions, the penalty for it can be as severe as the penalty for the original crime.

It is important to note that not all acts of assistance to a perpetrator will rise to meet this crime. For an individual to be charged as an accessory after the fact, there must be a clear and demonstrable intent to help the perpetrator avoid detection or punishment.

In some cases, an individual may be charged as both an accessory after the fact and as a co-conspirator in the original crime. This can occur when an individual is found to have participated in the planning or execution of the crime, but also provided assistance to the perpetrator after the fact.

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