Helping an alleged criminal escape arrest or judicial proceedings is illegal in Nevada. The penalties for being an "accessory after the fact" include fines and even prison. But a skilled Nevada criminal defense attorney may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
This article provides a legal summary of the Nevada crime of "accessories after the fact." Keep reading to learn the definition of, defenses to, and penalties for this offense.
Legal Definition of "Accessory after the Fact" in Nevada
There are two types of parties to a crime: principals, and accessories after the fact (or accessory for short):
A principal is a person who carries out -- or helps other principals carry out -- a crime. Meanwhile, accessories are people who harbor or aid a principal after he/she committed a felony or a gross misdemeanor in order to help that principal avoid arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment for the crime.
In short, accessories help principals avoid being prosecuted or sentenced for a past crime. Searchlight criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:
Harry buys several bags of cocaine in North Las Vegas. Paranoid that someone may find it and report him, he asks his neighbor John to help him bury the coke behind Harry's house. If caught, both Harry and John could be booked at the North Las Vegas Detention Center. Harry would then be charged with the Nevada crime of drug possession, and John would be charged as an accessory for helping Harry conceal evidence of his crime.
If John helped Harry buy the coke, John would instead be charged with drug possession. But because John did not enter the picture until Harry finished the drug sale, he is just an accessory after the fact. Other examples of acting as an accessory are:
- concealing the perpetrator of a crime
- destroying evidence of a crime (such as trashing a knife or cleaning blood from a crime scene)
- helping a fugitive flee
- lying to police to help the perpetrator avoid arrest
Note that a person cannot be charged as an accessory if he/she is related to the suspected principal as a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, child, or grandchild.
Accessory versus Aiding and Abetting
The difference between accessories and the Nevada crime of aiding and abetting is timing. Helping a criminal carry out a crime before the criminal activity has ended is aiding and abetting. Helping an alleged criminal after the criminal activity has ended is being an accessory. Laughlin criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse illustrates the distinction:
Bob goes into a convenience store in Henderson and holds up the cashier. His friend Fred, who is in the store at the time, decides to help Bob by taking the cash from the cash register. After Fred and Bob escape with the money, they flee to the house of their friend Andy, whom they then inform about the robbery. Andy then offers to hide the loot.
If caught, Bob, Fred, and Andy could all be booked at the Henderson Detention Center. Bob would be charged with the Nevada crime of robbery. Since Fred aided Bob during the hold-up, he would be charged with robbery as well. Since Andy helped Bob and Fred after the robbery had ended, Andy would just be charged with being an accessory.
Note that being an accessory is also distinct from the Nevada crime of conspiracy. The legal definition of a conspiracy is when two or more people make an agreement to commit a crime. Meanwhile, a person may act as an accessory without making an agreement with anyone.
Also, note that helping a murderer after the victim dies is considered acting as an accessory. But helping a murderer after the act of violence but before the victim dies is considered aiding and abetting the murder.
Acting as an accessory may involve lying to the police. Consequently, a suspected accessory may face such additional charges as the following:
The Nevada crime of offering false evidence (NRS 199.210),
The Nevada crime of resisting arrest (NRS 199.280) and/or
The Nevada crime of obstructing a police officer (NRS 197.190)
Defenses to "accessory after the fact" charges in Nevada
Several possible strategies exist to fight accessory charges in Nevada. The following are some of the most common defenses:
- Lack of knowledge of the crime. Helping or concealing a criminal is not a crime unless the person was aware at the time that he/she was helping or concealing a criminal. If the D.A. cannot prove that the defendant knew that he/she was aiding someone from escaping prosecution, the accessory charge should be dropped.
- Just a bystander. It is not illegal to witness or learn of a crime and then to do nothing about it unless the bystander has a legal duty to report it (such as a physician suspecting a child is a victim of abuse). As long as the bystander took no affirmative steps to help the alleged criminal get away with the crime, there is no accessory liability.
- Duress. A person who is threatened with imminent or serious harm if he/she refuses to harbor a criminal is not liable as an accessory. If the defense attorney can show that the alleged accessory was under duress when he/she helped the criminal, the case should be dropped. (Note that duress is not a defense to the Nevada crime of murder. A person is not allowed to kill another to save his/her own life unless the killing is done in line with Nevada self-defense laws.)
Other typical defenses to accessory charges include that the defendant was falsely accused, that he/she was a victim of mistaken identity, or simply that there is insufficient evidence. In any case, the prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to sustain a conviction.
Penalties for "accessories after the fact" convictions in Nevada
Acting as an accessory to a felony is usually prosecuted as a category C felony in Nevada, carrying a sentence of:
- one to five (1 - 5) years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe up to $10,000 in fines
Meanwhile, acting as an accessory to a gross misdemeanor is usually prosecuted as a misdemeanor in Nevada, carrying a sentence of:
- thirty days to six (6) months in jail, and/or
- $100 to $500 in fines
Penalties for related offenses
Obstructing a public officer is a misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of:
- up to six (6) months in jail, and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines
Resisting arrest is also a misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of:
- up to six (6) months in jail, and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines
Offering false evidence is a category D felony in Nevada carrying a sentence of:
- one to four (1 - 4) years in prison, and
- maybe up to $5,000 in fines
Note that non-citizens convicted of being an accessory may also face deportation from the U.S. if the underlying offense in the case was a crime of moral turpitude in Nevada or another deportable crime in Nevada. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.
Accused of being an accessory in Nevada?
Call a lawyer for help...
If you have been arrested for being an "accessory after the fact" in Nevada, phone our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consult. We will do our best to get the charges reduced or dismissed. Alternatively, we can take the matter to trial in pursuit of a "not guilty" verdict.
We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight, and Tonopah.