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What Does It Mean to Be An Accessory In a Criminal Investigation?

- Posted on 12/02/21

Many people don’t realize that it’s possible to be convicted of a crime even if you didn’t actually commit the crime. The simple act of helping someone plan or cover up a crime can be enough for you to be charged and convicted of being an accessory to a crime. Being an accessory is a crime in and of itself. If you’ve been arrested or you are being questioned by the police about being an accessory to a criminal act, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. 

What is an Accessory?

Many people confuse accessory with accomplice, but it’s important to realize that these are two different things. An accomplice is someone who helps the principal (the person physically involved in the criminal behavior) commit a crime. For example, if you help someone procure a firearm so they can rob someone, you will likely be charged as an accomplice (or an accessory before the fact). An accessory after the fact, on the other hand, is someone who isn’t directly involved in the commission of the crime. 

What are the Different Types of Accessories?

There are two different types of accessories in Washington D.C., an accessory before the fact and an accessory after the fact. 

Before the fact

An accessory before the fact is a person who assists, aids, incites, abets, or encourages another person to commit a crime. To be charged as an accessory before the fact, it is not required that you be present at the time that the crime is committed. An accessory before the fact is similar to an accomplice and if proven, you can be held responsible for the crime to the same extent as the principal, even if you weren’t actually involved in the crime or present when it took place. 

After the fact

An accessory after the fact is someone who knows that a crime has been committed and gives aid, shelter, or assistance to the person who committed the crime as a way to help them avoid punishment or arrest. If you know a crime was committed and withhold information from the police as a way to help the individual who committed the crime, you can be charged with and convicted as an accessory after the fact. Another example of an accessory after the fact is someone who helps clean up a crime scene, or a friend who drives the offender away from the scene. 

What Defenses Are Available?

Being charged as an accessory is a serious offense, so it can be helpful to know what legal defenses are available to you should this occur. Some of the most common defenses include the following:

No Crime Committed

To be convicted of being an accessory, the prosecutor must prove that a crime was actually committed. If you can provide evidence that no crime was committed, this is a valid defense that would help you avoid a conviction.

You Were Unaware That a Crime Was Committed

If someone commits a crime and you let them stay in your home or you give them food, money, or assist them with transportation, you can only be convicted of being an accessory if you actually had knowledge that they committed a crime. 

Your Actions Were Unintentional 

Another very common defense is that the actions you took were unintentional. For example, if you helped clean up a crime scene but you didn’t know it was a crime scene or you didn’t intend to get rid of evidence, this is a valid legal defense.

Being charged as an accessory is a serious criminal offense. Should you find yourself in this difficult situation, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.