Being an accessory by helping an alleged criminal escape arrest or judicial proceedings is itself a crime in Nevada.
Under Nevada law, acting as an accessory to a felony crime is treated as a category C felony carrying 1 to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000. Acting as an accessory to a gross misdemeanor is treated as a misdemeanor carrying 30 days to 6 months in jail and/or $100 to $500.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is an accessory after the fact in Nevada?
- 2. How is being an accessory different from aiding and abetting?
- 3. How can I fight the charges?
- 4. What are the penalties?
- 5. Related offenses
1. What is an accessory after the fact in Nevada?
There are two types of parties to a crime:
- principals, and
- accessories after the fact (“accessory”):
A principal is a person who carries out — or helps other principals carry out — the commission of a crime.1 Meanwhile, accessories are people who harbor or aid a principal after they 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 criminal offense.
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 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 under Nevada law if they are related to the suspected principal as a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, child, or grandchild.2
2. How is being an accessory different from aiding and abetting?
The difference between being an accessory and 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.3
Example: 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 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 under Nevada state law.
Note that being an accessory is also distinct from being a conspirator. 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.4
3. How can I fight the charges?
Several possible strategies exist to fight accessory charges in Nevada. The following are three 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 they were helping or concealing a criminal. If the D.A. cannot prove that the defendant knew that they were aiding someone from escaping prosecution, the criminal case should be dropped.
- Just a bystander. It is not illegal to witness or learn of a crime and then 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 they refuse to harbor a criminal is not liable as an accessory. If the defense attorney can show that the alleged accessory was under duress when they helped the criminal, the case should be dropped.5
Other typical defenses to accessory charges include that the defendant was falsely accused or that they were a victim of mistaken identity. In any case, the prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to sustain a conviction.
4. What are the penalties?
The Nevada punishment for acting as an accessory after the fact depends on whether the defendant was allegedly an accessory to a felony or a gross misdemeanor.
Acting as an accessory to a felony is usually prosecuted as a category C felony, carrying a sentence of:
- 1 to 5 years in Nevada State Prison, and
- up to $10,000 in fines (at the court’s discretion)
Meanwhile, acting as an accessory to a gross misdemeanor is usually prosecuted as a misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of:
- 30 days to 6 months in county jail, and/or
- $100 to $500 in fines (at the court’s discretion)6
Note that immigrants convicted of being an accessory may face deportation depending on the case.
5. Related offenses
Acting as an accessory may involve lying to the police. Consequently, a suspected accessory may face such additional charges as the following:
- Offering false evidence (NRS 199.210) – a misdemeanor carrying up to 6 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
- Resisting arrest (NRS 199.280) – a misdemeanor carrying up to 6 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
- Obstructing a police officer (NRS 197.190) – a category D felony carrying a prison sentence of 1 to 4 years and possibly up to $5,000.
In California? Learn about Penal Code 32 PC.
- Nevada Revised Statute 195.020. See, for example: State v. Plunkett, (2018) 429 P.3d 936, 134 Nev. Adv. Rep. 88; Desai v. State, (2017) 133 Nev. 339, 398 P.3d 889, 133 Nev. Adv. Rep. 48.
- NRS 195.030.
- NRS 195.020.
- NRS 199.480.
- NRS 195.040.