What Is the Crime of Accessory?

Female judge
Paul Bradbury

Question: What Is the Crime of Accessory?

Answer: The charge of accessory can be brought against anyone who helps someone else commit a crime, but who does not participate in the actual commission of the crime. There are various ways an accessory can help the criminal, including emotional or financial assistance as well as physical assistance or concealment.

Accessory Before the Fact

If you know someone who is planning to commit a crime and you do anything to help - plan the crime, loan them money or tools, encourage them to commit the crime or even just give advice - you can be charged with accessory before the fact.

For example, Mark worked in a building that his friend Tom was planning to rob. Mark provided Tom with the security code to access the building without setting off the security alarm in exchange for $500. Mark could be charged with accessory before the fact, whether or not Mark committed the crime, for the following reason:

1)  Mark was aware that a crime that was being planned and did not report it to the police.

2)  Mark encouraged Tom to do the crime by providing him with a way to do it that would lesson his chances of getting caught by the police.

3)  Mark received payment in exchange for the security code.

Accessory After the Fact

Likewise, if you know someone who has already committed a crime and you do anything to help - such as give them a place to hide or help them destroy evidence - you can be charged with accessory after the fact.

For example, Fred and Sally decided to rob a restaurant.

Fred went into the restaurant to rob it while Sally waited in the get-away car. After robbing the restaurant, Fred and Sally went to Kathy’s house and asked her if they could hide their car in her garage and stay with her for three days to help avoid being arrested. Kathy agreed in exchange for $500.

When the three were arrested, Fred and Sally were charged as the principals (the persons who actually commit the crime) and Kathy was charged as an accessory after the fact.

The prosecutor could prove accessory after the fact because:

1)  Kathy knew that Fred and Sally robbed the restaurant

2)  Kathy sheltered Fred and Sally with the intent to help them avoid arrest,

3)  Kathy helped Fred and Sally avoid arrest so that she could profit from their crime.

Proving Accessory After the Fact

Prosecutors must prove the following elements to prove accessory after the fact:

  • A crime was committed by a principal.
  • The defendant knew that the principal.
    (1) Committed the crime.
    (2) Was charged with the crime, or
    (3) Was convicted of the crime.
  • After the crime was committed, the defendant either helped to conceal or aid the principal.
  • The defendant assisted the principal with the intent that he/she avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment.

Defense Stratagies for Charges of Accessory to a Crime

On behalf of their client, defense lawyers can fight charges of accessory of a crime in many ways depending on the circumstances, but some of the more common stratagies include:

1)  No Knowledge of the Crime.

For example, if Joe robbed a restaurant and then went to Tom’s house and told him he needed a place to stay because he was evicted from his apartment and Tom allowed Joe to stay, Tom could not be found guilty of accessory after the fact, because he had no knowledge that Joe had committed a crime or that he was trying to hide from the police.

2)  No Intent

A prosecutor must prove that the actions of a person charged with being an accessory to a crime, did so with the intent to help the principal avoid arrest, trial, conviction or punishment.

For example, Jane’s boyfriend Tom called her and told her that his truck broke down and that he needed a ride. They agreed that Jane would pick him up in 30 minutes in front of the convenience store. As Jane approached the store, Tom waved her down from an alleyway near the store.

She pulled over, Tom jumped in and Jane drove away. Tom was later arrested for robbing the conveyance store and Jane was arrested for being accessory because she drove him from the scene. But since the prosecutors could not prove that Jane had any knowledge that Tom had just committed a crime, she was found innocent of the charges.

The prosecutors tried to prove that Jane must have known about the theft because Tom had a history of robbing convenience stores. However, the fact that Tom had been arrested multiple times for a similar crime was not enough to prove that Jane had any knowledge that Tom had just committed a crime when she went to pick him up; therefore they were unable to prove intent.

Return to Crimes A-Z