An “accessory to murder” is someone who aids in the murder of another person but isn’t present when it is carried out.

Accessories to murder can be divided into two categories: accessories before the fact and accessories after the fact. Someone assisting another person in committing murder is an example of accessory before the fact. After a crime, someone providing assistance to a someone they knew had just committed a murder is known as accessory after the fact.

In California, accessory to murder is often a felony, and it can have very severe consequences. If you or someone you know has been charged with being an accessory to murder, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. Your attorney can assist you in navigating your case as well as develop your defense.

Definition of accessory to murder in California

As we mentioned above, accessory to murder is punished depending on whether the conduct took place “before the fact” or “after the fact.”

  • Accessory before the fact is charged as “aiding and abetting” under California Penal Code 31 PC. This law makes it illegal to encourage, facilitate, incite or aid in the commission of a criminal act.
  • Accessory after the fact is charged under Penal Code 32 PC. In this case, it’s illegal to harbor, conceal or aid someone else with knowledge that they committed a felony.

In both cases, a prosecutor must show that a person is guilty of accessory to murder by demonstrating:

  1. The defendant knew about the crime, either beforehand or afterward, and
  2. The defendant intentionally acted to aid the principal offender.

In other words, it’s not accessory to murder if someone unknowingly aids someone else before or after they commit a murder. 

This also means that if a person acted as an accessory to murder under “duress,” meaning they did so because they were compelled by the primary offender and feared for their safety, then they cannot be convicted of .

Punishment for accessory to murder

The penalties in accessory to murder cases depend on how the crime was charged.

In aiding and abetting, the accused generally faces the same charges and penalties as the principal offender. For example, if a person aids or abets in a murder, he or she may be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Accessory after the fact is a “wobbler,” meaning it’s either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances and the defendant’s prior criminal record. As a misdemeanor, accessory after the fact is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to a year and fines of up to $5,000. As a felony, sentences can range as high as three years in state prison.

Defenses against ‘accessory to murder’

There are a number of ways to defend yourself against accessory to murder allegations. These include claims such as lack of intent, duress, and the simple fact that the main offender did not kill anyone.

It all boils down to the specifics of your situation. Your attorney can assist you in carefully and thoughtfully examining the facts and evidence of your case.