Colorado Revised Statute § 18-8-105 CRS defines accessory to a crime (also called an accessory after the fact). You face accessory charges if you render assistance to a criminal in order to protect them from getting:
- convicted, or
Under Colorado criminal law, acting as an accessory to a felon is a felony charge. Meanwhile, acting as an accessory to someone who committed a misdemeanor is a petty offense.
Examples of being an accessory to a crime include:
- Harboring (hiding) a hit-and-run suspect and any witnesses in your home;
- Warning an escaped prisoner that police officers are nearby so that the escapee can try to run away;
- Giving a fugitive cash, a wig, a gun, and a plane ticket to help them avoid arrest;
- Providing false information to law enforcement about a robber’s whereabouts to throw them off the scent; or
- Hiding a first-degree murder suspect’s handgun in your safe so law enforcement officers cannot find it.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is an accessory to a crime under CRS 18-8-105?
- 2. How is an accessory different from an accomplice?
- 3. What are the Colorado penalties for being an accessory?
- 4. What are the defenses?
- 5. Can immigrants be deported for being an accessory?
- 6. When can my record be sealed?
1. What is an accessory to a crime under CRS 18-8-105?
An accessory in Colorado is someone who knowingly helps a criminal to escape justice. 1 The four elements that prosecutors must prove in order to convict you of being an accessory are:
- A crime occurred;
- You assisted the person who committed the crime (the “principal”);
- You knew that the principal committed the crime or is a suspect; and
- Your intention was to prevent or delay law enforcement from catching and prosecuting the principal.
In short, any act of assisting a criminal in an effort to avoid the authorities qualifies as being an accessory. The key element is that you know that the person committed a crime and voluntarily help them escape justice.
Note that if you know about a crime and stay quiet about it – but then have no intention to help the criminal – you are not guilty of being an accessory.
“Mere silence” does not rise to the level of acting as an accessory: You have to do something in attempt to prevent
- an arrest,
- a conviction, or
Also note that it does not matter whether the criminal is ever
- convicted, or
- sentenced for the underlying crime.
You can face accessory charges even if the criminal never faces charges themself. (This is different from Colorado’s original common law rule, which required criminals to be convicted first before their accessories could be charged.) 2
2. How is an accessory different from an accomplice?
An accomplice is someone who abets another person (“the principal”) to commit a criminal offense. This is also called aiding and abetting in the commission of the crime.
In contrast, an accessory is someone who helps the alleged criminal after the crime has already been committed. Hence the expression, accessory after the fact.
Note that prosecutors press the same charges against accomplices and principals. In contrast, accessories usually receive lesser charges than the criminals they allegedly helped. 3
3. What are the Colorado penalties for being an accessory?
The punishment for acting as an accessory depends on what offense the alleged criminal committed. The more serious the underlying offense, the more serious the penalties for being an accessory to it.
|Crime you are accused of being an accessory to||Colorado sentence for being an accessory|
|Misdemeanor||Petty offense: |
|Class 6 felony||Class 6 felony: |
1 year of mandatory parole
|Class 5-, 4-, or 3 felony||Class 5 felony: |
2 years of mandatory parole
|Class 2- or 1 felony||If the other person is merely suspected of or wanted for committing the class 1 or 2 felony, then being an accessory is a class 5 felony: |
Class 4 felony, if the other person has committed, has been convicted of, or is charged with the class 1 or 2 felony:
4. What are the defenses?
From our experience at Colorado Legal Defense Group defending against accessory charges, we found that the following three defenses can be very effective at getting cases reduced or dismissed:
- You did not render assistance to the other person; 5
- You did not know the other person was suspected of, charged with, or convicted of a criminal act; or
- You did not intend to hinder, delay, or prevent the discovery, detection, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of the other person.
If any incriminating evidence emerges through an illegal search and seizure, you can ask the court to suppress that illegally-obtained evidence. If the court agrees, then the district attorney may have to dismiss the case for lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
5. Can immigrants be deported for being an accessory?
Acting as an accessory in certain cases may qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude, which is deportable. 6 Consequently, non-citizens facing accusations of being an accessory should seek legal counsel to fight the charge. It may be possible to persuade the D.A. to reduce or dismiss the charge.
Learn about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.
6. When can my record be sealed?
Felony accessory convictions are sealable three years after the case ends. Petty offense accessory convictions are sealable one year after the case ends.
If the charge gets dismissed – meaning that there was no conviction – then there is no waiting period before you can petition for a record seal. 7 Learn how to seal Colorado criminal records (which is different from expungements).
For further help…
Our Colorado criminal defense lawyers practice throughout the state, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Douglas County, and more. Call our criminal law firm for legal advice on your Colorado criminal case.
Our law office handles plea bargaining for all types of charges, such as Colorado DUI/DWAI, domestic violence, license revocations, vehicular homicide, restraining order / protection order violations, solicitation, child abuse, tampering, sexual assault and other sex offender charges, first- and second-degree assault, controlled substance charges, and more.
- CRS criminal code 18-8-105. The language of the code section reads as follows:
(1) A person is an accessory to crime if, with intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the discovery, detection, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of another for the commission of a crime, he renders assistance to such person.
(2) “Render assistance” means to:
(a) Harbor or conceal the other; or
(a.5) Harbor or conceal the victim or a witness to the crime; or
(b) Warn such person of impending discovery or apprehension; except that this does not apply to a warning given in an effort to bring such person into compliance with the law; or
(c) Provide such person with money, transportation, weapon, disguise, or other thing to be used in avoiding discovery or apprehension; or
(d) By force, intimidation, or deception, obstruct anyone in the performance of any act which might aid in the discovery, detection, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of such person; or
(e) Conceal, destroy, or alter any physical or testimonial evidence that might aid in the discovery, detection, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of such person.
(3) Being an accessory to crime is a class 4 felony if the offender knows that the person being assisted has committed, or has been convicted of, or is charged by pending information, indictment, or complaint with a crime, and if that crime is designated by this code as a class 1 or class 2 felony.
(4) Being an accessory to crime is a class 5 felony if the offender knows that the person being assisted is suspected of or wanted for a crime, and if that crime is designated by this code as a class 1 or class 2 felony.
(5) Being an accessory to crime is a class 5 felony if the offender knows that the person being assisted has committed, or has been convicted of, or is charged by pending information, indictment, or complaint with a crime, or is suspected of or wanted for a crime, and if that crime is designated by this code as a felony other than a class 1 or class 2 felony; except that being an accessory to a class 6 felony is a class 6 felony.
(6) Being an accessory to crime is a petty offense if the offender knows that the person being assisted has committed, or has been convicted of, or is charged by pending information, indictment, or complaint with a crime, or is suspected of or wanted for a crime, and if that crime is designated by this code as a misdemeanor of any class.
See also People v. Preciado-Flores, (Colo. App. 2002) 66 P.3d 155; People v. Rios (Colo. App., 2020) 463 P.3d 322.
- See Roberts v. People, (1938) 103 Colo. 250, 87 P.2d 251. Howard v. People, (1935) 97 Colo. 550, 51 P.2d 594 (“At common law a conviction of the principal was required to precede or accompany that of one charged as an accessory and the accessory was subject to the same punishment as the principal…Thus, at common law, the accused must have rendered some assistance to a felon, and that assistance must have been such as to shelter him to some extent from prosecution, as, for instance, by concealing him in his house, and the like.”). People v. Broom, (Colo. App. 1990) 797 P.2d 754.
- Colorado Revised Statute 18-1-603.
- CRS 18-8-105 subsections 3-6. Prior to March 1, 2022, being an accessory to a misdemeanor was a class 1 petty offense, carrying up to 6 months in jail, and/or up to $500 in fines. SB21-271.
- See, for example, Lowe v. People, (Colo. Supreme Court, 1957) 135 Colo. 209, 309 P.2d 601.
- 8 USC 1227; see, for example, Matter of Rivens, (BIA, 2011) 25 I&N Dec. 623.
- CRS 24-72-701-708.