Penal Code § 32 PC defines the crime commonly known as being an “accessory after the fact“. This involves 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 you challenge accessory after-the-fact allegations. Some of these include showing that you:
- had no knowledge that a person committed a felony,
- acted under duress, and/or
- were 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 I raise a legal defense?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating PC 32?
- 4. Can I 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 you acted as an accessory after the fact:
- a person committed a felony offense or was facing felony charges,
- you knew that the person committed, was charged with, or was convicted of a felony,
- after the felony was committed or charged, you hid or aided the person, and
- you did so to help the person avoid arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment.
2. Can I raise a legal defense?
You can and should raise a legal defense that casts reasonable doubt on any criminal charges brought under this law.
A few common defenses include showing that you:
- did not know that a person committed a felony.
- acted under duress.
- were an innocent bystander.
2.1 No knowledge
Recall that you are only an accessory after the fact if you actually knew that a person committed or was charged with a felony. This means it is always a defense to show that you did not have this knowledge.
Duress is a legal defense in which you basically say: “He made me do it.” The defense applies to the situation in which you commit a crime (here, aiding a felon), because somebody threatened to kill you if the crime was not committed.
You are only guilty under PC 32 if you assisted a felon, namely harboring, concealing, or aiding the felon. A defense, therefore, is to show that you took no specific action to help someone that committed or was charged with a felony. In short, you need to show that you were 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
- your criminal history.
If you are 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 you are 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 I get a conviction expunged?
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor under PC 32, you can get the conviction expunged per Penal Code 1203.4. This is true provided that you successfully complete your:
- 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 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:
- you agree with one or more other persons to commit a crime, and
- one of you 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 you 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 you are guilty under this law for helping in the commission of a crime. With PC 32, however, you are 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 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 you would have been charged if you 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 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.