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How can someone become an “accessory after the fact?”

Could you be arrested for involvement in a crime you knew nothing about until after it occurred? It’s possible that you could be charged with being an accessory after the fact. 

Just learning that a friend or acquaintance committed a crime and not reporting it likely won’t result in criminal charges. (There are exceptions for people whose jobs make them “mandatory reporters” of certain crimes, like child abuse.) However, people who lie to the police, knowingly dispose of or hide evidence or help someone evade interrogation or arrest are considered accessories after the fact.

Louisiana law on the issue

Louisiana law states that an accessory after the fact is anyone who “after the commission of a felony, shall harbor, conceal, or aid the offender, knowing or having reasonable ground to believe that he has committed the felony, and with the intent that he may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.”

A conviction for this crime carries a penalty of a maximum $500 fine and up to five years behind bars “with or without hard labor.” However, they can be sentenced to no more than “one-half of the maximum provided by law for a principal offender.”

Note that an arrest and conviction for this crime are independent of whether that “principal offender” is found or arrested. Of course, if a person has information about the whereabouts of that person, it will likely help them in negotiating a plea deal.

Each case is unique

Obviously, the specifics of the case will determine what kind of penalty you could face. If a friend asked you to do them a favor like say they were with you at a certain time or hold onto a knife for them, you may not have asked any questions (or wanted to know the answers). However, if the police tell you they suspect your friend of stabbing someone and you still lie for them, that’s another matter.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors at play in an accessory after the fact charge. If you find yourself facing it – or fear that you know something that might put you in jeopardy of arrest – it’s wise to seek legal advice right away.