Hire a Lawyer for Accessory After the Fact Crimes

If you have an accessory after the fact conviction, you may already be familiar with this term. If federal authorities have charged you with it, or if you worry they may, you may find yourself asking, “What is accessory after the fact?”

Let’s take a look at what constitutes this crime, what the federal prosecutors must prove to convict you, the punishments for accessory after the fact, and the statute of limitations.

If you need help defending yourself against these federal charges, call the Zoukis Consulting Group.

Defining the Crime

The statute defining this crime, 18 U.S. Code § 3, tells us several things explicitly, and some implicit information there, too. One can stand guilty of accessory after the fact if he “receives, relieves, comforts, or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment” according to the U.S. Code.

A federal prosecutor must prove four elements of the crime to find you guilty of accessory after the fact. Those elements are:

  • Helping someone who committed a crime.
  • Helping that person after the crime has occurred.
  • Helping the offender while knowing about the crime.
  • Taking actions designed to assist the person in avoiding arrest and punishment for the crime.

If all four of these elements go unproven, prosecutors cannot establish the crime happened, and you go free. The implicit statement is that the government must also prove that the crime was committed by the person with whom you are charged as an accessory.

So, even if your actions tick all four boxes, if the government cannot prove that the person you helped commit the crime actually committed said crime, then you cannot be found guilty of accessory after the fact.

Other caveats involve your knowledge of the elements of the principal crime. First of all, you are not an accessory after the fact if you do not know a crime was committed. If you suspect that the person asking you to help them with something has committed a crime, you are not an accessory no matter what assistance you provide. 

Second, the prosecution must prove that you have some type of relationship with the accused criminal. However, this does not mean that the prosecution must prove you knew the guy’s name or that you have drinks together every Tuesday. 

If they can prove that you knew the person’s identity as the felon responsible for a crime and that despite you knowing those facts, you helped him, then they can charge you with accessory after the fact.


If federal prosecutors convict you of accessory after the fact, they must abide by the statute as to the sentence they can request. The same laws provide the parameters of sentencing in which the judge must operate.

Accessory after the fact is an unusual crime when sentencing as there are no prescribed minimum and maximum amounts of prison time attached to it. The sentencing guidelines for accessory after the fact directly tie the sentence to the crime that came before (the principal crime) the convicted person acted as an accessory. The penalty cannot exceed half the sentence for the principal crime.

If the principal crime was a federal vandalism charge with damage exceeding $100, the accused is looking at a maximum of ten years. Therefore, if you find yourself convicted of being an accessory after the fact, you cannot receive a sentence of more than five years. 

If the sentence for the principal crime is life in prison or the death penalty, then the accessory sentence can’t exceed 15 years.

Statute of Limitations

As with punishment, the statute of limitations on the crime of accessory after the fact corresponds to the principal crime. For example, if the principal crime is murder, there is no statute of limitations. Suppose prosecutors or other officers intend to charge you with being an accessory to federal money laundering. In that case, that statute of limitations is five years for the money laundering and the accessory charge.

Let Us Fight Your Federal Accessory Charges

If you are accused of accessory after the fact, the information here may give you some peace of mind, especially if the prosecutors cannot prove all four elements of the crime. If federal authorities have procured a conviction against you, the sentencing guideline above can help you get some idea of what you face from the court.

In any case, the Zoukis Consulting Group stands ready to help you whether you’re facing federal charges or time in federal prison. Neither should be faced alone or without preparation and assistance, so take the time to get those things by contacting Zoukis Consulting Group today.