Don’t become an accessory after the fact to a white collar crime

A friend tells you that detectives are asking questions about him receiving gifts as bribes for giving lucrative contracts to a couple of his college buddies. He says it’s all a big misunderstanding and he did nothing wrong. If they come around asking you if you’ve noticed any expensive electronics or jewelry in his home, can you just forget about those things he showed you? It was all legit, he swears, but the cops won’t understand.

You did nothing wrong, and you don’t really think he did anything that should be considered a crime. What harm is there in “forgetting” what you saw?

That could be a big mistake. If you’re helping your friend cover up his involvement in a crime, you could be charged as an “accessory after the fact.” Depending on what the crime was, you could face serious legal consequences.

What do prosecutors need to prove?

Typically, to convict someone of being an accessory after the fact, police and prosecutors have to show that the person knew a crime was committed and helped in some way to prevent the criminal’s apprehension, conviction and/or punishment. That means someone can also be an accessory after the fact if they help another person hide from police when they’re seeking to question or arrest them or when they are supposed to surrender themselves to begin serving their sentence.

If you didn’t know your friend committed a crime, but simply lied because they asked you to, that defense could possibly help you avoid charges of your own. However, you’d still be hampering an investigation. Further, when law enforcement officers question people, they typically tell them what the person they’re inquiring about is suspected of doing. 

Even if you do initially lie, if you start telling the truth when you face accessory after the fact charges, that can be to your advantage if your honest testimony can help authorities charge and convict someone. If you’re facing accessory charges — or even if you’re being questioned by state or federal authorities and don’t know how to respond, it’s wise to seek legal guidance. 

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