Penal Code 32 PC makes it a crime to be an accessory after the fact. This is defined as knowingly harboring, concealing, or aiding a felon, in order to protect the person from arrest, trial, conviction, or sentencing.
A conviction is a felony that can lead to up to three years in state prison.
The language of the code section states that:
32. Every person who, after a felony has been committed, harbors, conceals or aids a principal in such felony, with the intent that said principal may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment, having knowledge that said principal has committed such felony or has been charged with such felony or convicted thereof, is an accessory to such felony.
- helping a felon escape from an arrest.
- driving a getaway car for someone that just committed felony burglary.
- providing a false alibi for a friend that committed felony DUI.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several defense strategies to help people challenge accessory after-the-fact allegations. Some of these include showing that the accused:
- had no knowledge that a person committed a felony,
- acted under duress, and/or
- was a mere bystander to the crime.
Under California criminal law, a violation of California Penal Code Section 32 PC is a wobbler offense. A wobbler is a criminal offense that a district attorney can charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
While misdemeanor convictions are punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, felony convictions can lead to custody in jail or state prison for up to three years.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. What does it mean to be an “accessory after the fact”?
- 2. Can a defendant raise a legal defense?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating PC 32?
- 4. Can someone get a conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. What does it mean to be an “accessory after the fact”?
A prosecutor must prove the following to successfully show that a defendant acted as an accessory after the fact:
- a person committed a felony offense or was facing felony charges,
- the defendant knew that the person committed, was charged with, or was convicted of a felony,
- after the felony was committed or charged, the defendant hid or aided the person, and
- the defendant did so to help the person avoid arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.
2. Can a defendant raise a legal defense?
Defendants can and should raise a legal defense that casts reasonable doubt on any criminal charges brought under this law.
A few common defenses include an accused showing that he/she:
- did not know that a person committed a felony.
- acted under duress.
- was an innocent bystander.
2.1 No knowledge
Recall that a person is only an accessory after the fact if he/she actually knew that a person committed or was charged with a felony. This means it is always a defense for defendants to show that they did not have this knowledge.
Duress is a legal defense in which an accused basically says: “He made me do it.” The defense applies to the situation in which a person commits a crime (here, aiding a felon), because somebody threatened to kill him if the crime was not committed.
Parties are only guilty under PC 32 if they assisted a felon, namely harboring, concealing, or aiding the felon. A defense, therefore, is for a defendant to show that he/she took no specific act to help someone that committed or was charged with a felony. In short, the accused needs to show that he/she was a mere bystander to the crime.
3. What are the penalties for violating PC 32?
A violation of Penal Code 32 is a wobbler offense. This means a prosecutor can charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on:
- the facts of the case, and
- the defendant’s criminal history.
If a defendant is convicted of misdemeanor accessory after the fact, the crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $5,000.
If a defendant is convicted of felony accessory after the fact, the offense is punishable by:
- custody in jail or state prison for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $5,000.
4. Can someone get a conviction expunged?
A person convicted of a misdemeanor under PC 32 can get the conviction expunged per Penal Code 1203.4. This is true provided that the defendant successfully completes his/her:
- jail term, or
- probationary term (whichever was imposed).
Note that felony convictions under this statute cannot get expunged. This is because expungements are not allowed for offenses that lead to a state prison term.
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to a person acting as an accessory after the fact. These are:
- criminal conspiracy – PC 182,
- aiding and abetting – PC 31, and
- attempt crimes – PC 664.
5.1 Criminal conspiracy – PC 182
Under Penal Code 182 PC, California law defines the crime of conspiracy as a scenario where:
- the defendant agrees with one or more other persons to commit a crime, and
- one of the parties commits an act to further that agreement.
In comparison to the offense of aiding a felon per PC 32, the commission of a conspiracy typically requires an accused to have more involvement in the commission of a crime. This normally includes time spent in the:
- planning of the crime, and
- execution of the crime.
5.2 Aiding and abetting – PC 31
Penal Code 31 PC is the California statute that says aiding and abetting is a crime. This section makes it illegal to encourage, facilitate or aid in the commission of a criminal act.
Note that an aider is guilty under this law for helping in the commission of a crime. With PC 32, however, a person is guilty of an offense for helping someone after a crime was committed.
5.3 Attempted crimes – PC 664
Penal Code 664 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to attempt to commit a criminal act.
As with being an accessory after the fact, attempting a crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The determination as to which gets charged depends on how the defendant would have been charged if he/she completed the crime that was attempted.
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
They also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Beverly Hills, Glendale, Long Beach, Pasadena, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, and Torrance.
Also see our related page on being an accessory before the fact.
 California Penal Code 33 PC.
 See same.