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Accessory After the Fact

Florida Statute 777.03 defines what it means to be an accessory after the fact in Florida. When you violate this law, you assist someone after he or she has committed a felony by helping in his or her evade arrest, trial, conviction or punishment. In so doing, you yourself commit a felony offense.

However, there is an important exception written into the law, known as the “related person exemption.” This provision holds that an individual can’t be charged with accessory after the fact if they are the suspect’s:

  • Wife
  • Husband
  • Parent
  • Grandparent
  • Child
  • Grandchild
  • Brother (by blood or marriage)
  • Sister (by blood or marriage)

Those who are NOT protected under the related person exemption include:

  • Uncle
  • Aunt
  • Cousin
  • Mother/ Father of Shared Child (unless married)
  • Girlfriend/ Boyfriend

Even though in some cases these individuals are technically related to the suspect, they aren’t protected under the related person exemption.

At The Ansara Law Firm, we know the only time this related person exemption is NOT applicable is in cases of child abuse. The child abuse exemption indicates that when the underlying felony involves child abuse, child neglect or the death of a child, any person – related or otherwise – can be charged with accessory after the fact. This scenario is where most accessory after the fact cases arise because the people more likely to protect a suspect are those who are closest – and it’s only under this exception they can be prosecuted.

Those not protected under this related person exemption should understand how the crime is defined and what penalties they may face. They should also consult with an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney as soon as possible because this is a serious offense for which they are facing the possibility of years behind bars.

Examples of Accessory After the Fact

You can be charged with accessory after the fact in Florida if you aid someone who committed a felony in hiding or fleeing from the criminal justice or correctional system.

Parties to the crimes are classified as either “principles” or “accessories.” The key distinction is that a principle is the person who committed the underlying felony, while the accessory is someone who helps the felon after the completion of the felony.

For prosecutors to obtain a conviction on a charge of accessory after the fact, they must show:

  • A felony was committed by the person being assisted;
  • The defendant knew the person they were aiding had either committed a felony, was charged with a felony or was convicted of a felony;
  • After the felony was committed, defendant maintained or assisted the principal offender OR someone who was an accessory before the fact or gave the offender any other kind of aid;
  • The intention of providing this aid was to help the offender avoid or escape detection, arrest, trial or punishment.

Some examples of accessory after the fact would be:

  • Janet sheltered James in her garage for a night to help him avoid being caught by the cops after he had robbed a local convenience store.

  • Patrick hid Penny’s car in his garage and gave her his own car to help her leave town after she helped burglarize several homes in the neighborhood.

  • Amy lied to police about having seen Mark to help him leave town after he battered and severely injured his girlfriend.

  • Mel lent Sam her car to help him leave town so the cops wouldn’t find him after he committed a drive-by shooting.

  • Nora gave her son a plane ticket to another country after he was released on bond while awaiting trial on a charge of child abuse.

In each of these examples, the help was rendered after the completion of the crime with the knowing intention to help the felon escape arrest.

Penalties for Accessory After the Fact

This is a type of derivative crime, which means the applicable penalties are going to depend on the severity of the underlying felony that was committed.

So for example:

  • If the underlying crime was a third-degree felony, accessory after the fact may be charged as either a first-degree misdemeanor (maximum 1 year in jail) or a third-degree felony (maximum 5 years in prison).

  • If the underlying crime was a second-degree felony, accessory after the fact will be charged as a third-degree felony (maximum 5 years in prison).

  • If the underlying crime was a first-degree felony, accessory after the fact will be charged as a second-degree felony (maximum 15 years in prison).

  • If the underlying crime was a life felony, accessory after the fact will be charged as a second-degree felony (maximum 15 years in prison).

  • If the underlying crime was a capital felony, accessory after the fact will be charged as a first-degree felony (maximum 30 years in prison).

Additionally, individuals may face lengthy probation terms and hefty fines.

Defenses to Accessory After the Fact

There are several pretrial and trial defenses that may be used in these cases (including motions to suppress key evidence).

In addition to those, we may also explore these defenses:

  • Victim of Domestic Violence. Victims of domestic violence have a legitimate defense if they are charged with accessory after the fact – even if the underlying crime was one of neglect or violence against a child.

  • No Duty to Report. A person doesn’t have a duty to report another individual to police just because they suspect or know the other person committed a felony. It’s aiding them that is a crime. So simply living with someone known to have committed a felony does not make you an accessory.

  • Refusal to Cooperate. It is not a crime to simply disavow knowledge or refuse to cooperate with an investigation.

If you have been arrested for accessory after the fact in South Florida, we can help.

Contact Fort Lauderale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011 or send us an email. We serve clients in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.

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