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Are you an “accessory after the fact?”

On Behalf of | Oct 30, 2021 | Criminal Law

You didn’t commit a crime – as far as you’re concerned. But you know someone who did. Maybe it’s a family member or friend. Maybe they came over to your house and asked to wash some bloody clothes in your washing machine. Maybe they gave you some stolen jewelry to hold. Perhaps they told you to say you were with them if anyone – including the police – asked you.

You’re not sure what happened, and you don’t really want to know. Maybe you didn’t want to know, they told you what happened and begged for your help or made you feel like you had to do what they said. Now, words like “accomplice,” “aiding and abetting” and “accessory” are going through your mind. Are you in legal jeopardy? 

If you weren’t actually involved in the planning or commission of a crime, you likely won’t be charged as an accomplice. However, an accessory – or “accessory after the fact” is another matter. Let’s look at what it takes under the law to be an accessory.

How does South Dakota law define it?

Under South Dakota law, someone is an accessory after the fact if they know that a crime has been committed and “receives, comforts, or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent the offender’s apprehension, trial, or punishment shall be punished….” 

Prosecutors have a lot of discretion in charging a person with this crime, and whether you are charged depends on a number of factors:

  • Were you told that a crime was committed, or did you just suspect it?
  • How serious was the crime?
  • How much did you do to try to protect the perpetrator and/or hide evidence?
  • Did you lie to authorities?
  • Were you threatened or intimidated into helping the perpetrator?
  • Are you assisting authorities now?

These are all things that law enforcement officers and prosecutors will take into consideration. However, it’s crucial not to try to defend yourself if you’re in this situation. You should have experienced legal guidance to protect your rights and present your case.