Defending Against Accessory After the Fact Criminal Charges in the State of Florida
Accessory after the fact of a crime is a difficult concept to understand. Being an accessory after the fact is not the same as driving a getaway car after a robbery or murder. Still, it is a serious crime that Florida prosecutors vigorously pursue. Driving a getaway car, for example, is a joint venture rather than an accessory. Instead, the charge of accessory after the fact punishes the offender who helps another person evade capture or somehow helps another conceal a crime. Interestingly, the charge of accessory after the fact pertains only to felony charges and not misdemeanor criminal offenses.
Florida law provides an exception for individuals related by blood or marriage from prosecution as an accessory after the fact. If the person who committed the crime, who is known as the principal, is the spouse, parent, child, grandparent, brother or sister, of the person alleged to be an accessory after the fact, then the accessory cannot be charged with the crime of accessory after the fact. People who are related distantly, such as cousins, aunts, uncles, or who are bound by affinities such as a boyfriend or girlfriend, do not qualify for the exception.
The relationship status to the suspect is irrelevant in child abuse cases. Meaning that Florida law does not grant an exemption from prosecution to any person who provided aid or was otherwise an accessory after the fact to another who allegedly committed child neglect, child abuse, or is connected to the death of a child.
Florida Statutes §777.03 defines accessory and enumerates the possible punishments for the crime. Under §777.03(1)(a), a person may be convicted as an accessory after the fact if the crime was a third-degree felony, and the offender gave the principle aid in any manner while knowing that the principal committed a crime, or the accessory before the fact had the intent to help the principal avoid prosecution arrest, trial or punishment or escape detection is also an accessory after the fact.
Subsection (b) of §777.03 defines an accessory after the fact for crimes involving the abuse of a child. Any person who gives aid to another with the knowledge that the principle committed a crime relating to abuse of a child, child neglect, aggravated abuse of a child, aggravated manslaughter of a child, murder of a child, or also acted as an accessory before the fact and formed the intent to assist the principal to escape, to evade arrest, avoid trial, or avoid punishment is an accessory after the fact. However, there is an important exception contained in subsection (b). A person who was victimized by domestic violence cannot be an accessory after the fact of child abuse.
The exception granted to family members from prosecution as accessories after the fact is limited to third-degree felonies. Any person who assists a principal or a person acting as an accessory before the fact, or who helps the principal avoid arrest, or evade trial, prosecution, or punishment for a capital crime or a felony in the first or second degree is an accessory after the fact under §777.03(c).
Potential punishments for the crime of accessory after the fact will depend on the nature of the underlying offense. A person convicted of being an accessory after the fact to a capital felony faces punishment as a felon in the first degree. Therefore the offender risks spending up to 30 years in prison if he or she is convicted for accessory after the fact to a capital offense. A person convicted of acting as an accessory after the fact for a person who committed a life felony or first-degree felony then the accessory after the fact faces up to fifteen years in prison for a second-degree felony.
An accessory after the fact to a second-degree felony or a serious third-degree felony could serve up to five years in the Florida prison system as a third-degree felon. A person convicted of being an accessory after the fact way minor third-degree felony faces punishment as a person convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor and faces up to one year in the county jail.
Florida law recognizes defenses to the charge of accessory after the fact in certain circumstances. As referenced above, a person who is a victim of domestic violence has a complete defense to the charge of accessory after the fact for crimes relating to child abuse. Additionally, as also explained above, people who maintain certain relationships with the person suspected of perpetrated a crime are exempt from prosecution as an accessory after the fact for third-degree felonies. These are legal defenses that a judge could rule on before the trial commences and dismisses the case outright if either of these two exemptions applies. If a judge declines to dismiss the case before trial based on a statutory exemption, then the accused could argue these defenses to a jury during a trial.
Florida law recognizes other defenses to the crime of accessory after the fact as well. A person who refuses to cooperate with the police investigation is not an accessory after the fact to a crime. Individuals have no obligation in Florida to cooperate with the police even if the result of that cooperation allows the principle to avoid arrest, prosecution, punishment, or aid apprehension. Furthermore, lack of knowledge is always a potential defense to the crime of accessory after the fact.
Similarly, Florida law does not require any individual com except in certain circumstances relating to child abuse and abuse of elders, to report a crime. A person has no duty to tell the police that another committed a crime even if it helps the perpetrator avoid capture. Additionally, living with the person who committed a crime is not acting as an accessory after the fact to a crime.
The essence of the crime of accessory after the fact is the aid given to the perpetrator to facilitate getting away with the crime. Therefore, hiding another person in your home was committed a felony in Florida depending on the nature of the relationship and the severity of the crime, which could render you an accessory after the fact. Similarly, lending another a motor vehicle to get away from police, could also implicate you as an accessory after the fact.