You weren’t there when a crime happened, so why are the police at your door? You may find yourself under arrest for being an “accessory” to the crime, either before or after it happened.
This is a common source of confusion for many defendants who don’t understand how the criminal justice system works. Here are the basics you should understand:
What’s an accessory before the fact?
An accessory before the fact is someone who has, in some way, either encouraged or incited someone to commit a crime.
For example, imagine a situation where a woman is angry at her ex-boyfriend, so she encourages her brother to go beat the ex up – and the ex-boyfriend dies from the beating. Even though she didn’t actually lay a hand on her ex, the law considers her to be equally responsible for his death as the person who inflicted the beating.
What’s an accessory after the fact?
An accessory after the fact is someone who assists or protects another person knowing that they have committed a crime.
For example, imagine a situation where a woman’s brother comes to her with blood on his clothing and confesses that he thinks he just killed someone. The woman feels compelled to help her brother avoid arrest, so she conceals him from the police for a while until she can give him enough money to try to leave the area.
This is also a serious offense and can result in a decade or more in jail depending on the nature of the underlying crime.
You may not have been present when a crime was committed, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get into trouble for whatever happened, especially when it involves a violent crime. If you have concerns about your potential legal liability in a criminal case, the best way to help yourself is to seek experienced legal guidance.