In 2010, Daniel Wozniak shot and killed two people. According to reports, he committed the murders because he was feeling significant financial pressure because of his upcoming wedding. He was arrested at his bachelor party days after the bodies were discovered. Earlier this month, Wozniak’s former fiance was convicted for her role in the crime. A jury found that Rachel Buffett, Wozniak’s fiance at the time of the murders, had been an accessory to the crime after the fact for “lying to police” and helping him “try and get away with his crimes.”
What is an Accessory After the Fact?
It’s illegal to help another person commit a crime. It’s also unlawful to help another person try to get away with a crime. If you do anything that is intended to help another person escape responsibility for a criminal act that’s already been committed, you can be considered an accessory after the fact.
You’ll be considered an accessory after the fact under Penal Code 32 PC if you “harbor, conceal, or aid” a principal in a felony after it has been committed if you have the intent to help that person “avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.”
What Does the State Have to Prove?
Remember, you can only be convicted of a crime if the state can prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors can only do this if they establish each element of the crime. When you are accused of being an accessory after the fact, the state must prove:
- Someone committed a felony;
- You knew that the person had committed the felony, or had been charged with or convicted of a felony;
- You harbored, concealed, or aided that person after the felony had been committed; and
- You intended to help the person evade arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.
In other words, you had to have intentionally offered assistance to help someone avoid the consequences of a felony offense.
Examples of Accessory After the Fact
You may be considered an accessory after the fact in violation of Penal Code 32 if you:
- Intentionally mislead or lie to police
- Offer a false alibi
- Help another person hide evidence related to a felony
- Destroy evidence related to a crime, or
- Allowing a person to hide in your home after a crime.
If you know that someone has committed a felony or been charged with a felony, it is a crime to offer any assistance that would help them escape the consequences.
Is Being an Accessory After the Fact a Felony?
Accessory after the fact, as defined in Penal Code 32 PC, can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in Los Angeles. The charges you’ll face will depend on an analysis of several factors, which may include:
- Your criminal record
- The aid you offered to the perpetrator
- The underlying felony offense, and
- Any harm caused by your actions.
Misdemeanor Accessory After the Fact: As a misdemeanor, accessory after the fact is punishable by 12 months in a Los Angeles County jail and/or $5,000 in fines.
Felony Accessory After the Fact: As a felony, accessory after the fact is punishable by up to 3 years in a California state prison and $5,000 in fines.
How Can I Defend Myself If I’ve Been Accused of Being an Accessory After the Fact?
You have the right to defend yourself when you’re accused of a crime in Los Angeles. The best defenses will make it tough for the state to build a case against you. When you are charged with being an accessory after the fact, the following defenses may be helpful:
- You didn’t know the perpetrator had committed a felony
- You didn’t know the perpetrator had been charged with or convicted of a felony
- The perpetrator didn’t commit a felony
- You did not conceal, harbor, or aid the perpetrator
- You did not intend to help the perpetrator avoid arrest, trial, or penalties
- You were forced to provide assistance, or
- You have been falsely accused.
Did the state gather evidence in violation of your rights? Were you the victim of an illegal search, seizure, or arrest? You can also demand to have any evidence tainted by illegal state action excluded from your case. If prosecutors don’t have direct evidence of your crime they may be forced to drop the charges or offer a plea. If you need a criminal defense attorney, see the top 7 questions you need to ask when hiring a criminal lawyer.
If you’ve been arrested for a crime in Los Angeles it’s important to ask for help. Hiring an attorney will help you secure the best outcome in your criminal case. Contact the Los Angeles Criminal Law Center to learn more.