Accessory to Murder: What Does It Mean?

Updated May 3, 2024
6 min read
Paper titled "Accessory to Murder: What Does It Mean?"; CASE notebook, papers, handcuffs, police car

Murder charges are very serious. Equally serious are accessory to murder charges. An accessory to murder is anyone who helps someone commit murder or helps that person after the party commits a murder. This can include giving someone a boat or vehicle in which to escape, giving them money to help them get away, hiding the murder weapon, and much more.

What Is Accessory to Murder?

Accessory to murder is a criminal act that has to do with murder charges. The accessory to murder definition concerns that a person may be found guilty of helping or assisting a murderer either before or after the murder takes place.

Illustrating the gravity of facilitating or aiding in the commitment of a crime, it is crucial to comprehend the accessory to murder meaning. Under the law, it is illegal to incite, facilitate, or assist someone in committing a criminal act, such as murder. In every state, the penal code will charge you as an accessory to manslaughter either after the fact or before the fact.

Accessory to murders after the fact

A person who assists a murderer after they have already committed the crime is considered an accessory after the fact murder.

Accessory to murder before the fact

Similarly, an accessory to murder before the fact is someone who helps a murderer before the party commits the murder.

Accessory to Murder Charges

Whether you are charged as an accessory to murder before the fact or after the fact, the prosecution has to prove that you were aware of the crime and that you intentionally acted in a way that helped the murderer, who is referred to as the principal offender.

This intent, the fact that you must have knowingly helped, means that if you acted under duress, which means that you helped a principal offender because you feared for your safety or were forced to with a deadly weapon, you have a suitable legal defense to the criminal charges. An affidavit document can help you formulate truthful statements under oath and introduce them to the court.

Penalties for Accessory to Murder

The penalties for accessory to murder charges are really based on the severity of the crime and the type of case.

If you are charged with aiding and abetting, then it is very likely you will face the same penalties if convicted as the person who has committed murder. This means that you could face a felony charge with the most serious cases resulting in life in prison without parole.

In other cases, if you are charged as an accessory after the fact, you could be legally referred to as a wobbler. A wobbler is one who could face a felony or a misdemeanor accessory charge. This is really based on the criminal history of the defendant as well as the facts involved in the case. 

  • If convicted of a misdemeanor accessory charge, the punishment could include time in a county jail for up to one year and fines up to $5,000. The severity can escalate considerably if the charges pertain to an accessory to murders sentence.
  • If convicted of a felony charge, the punishment can include up to three years in a state prison and the same $5,000 fine.

Examples of the Accessory to Murder

A nuanced understanding of accessory to murder and examining concrete examples can be extremely beneficial. So, let’s look at the first example:

Mark is at home one evening finishing dinner when a colleague from work randomly knocks on his door. The colleague asks him if he can hang on to what looks like a very dirty, red-tinged axe. Mark thinks the request is odd, but he accepts the tool and places it in his shed. A few days later, police showed up on his property with a warrant to search the shed. They find the tool and test it, confirming that it was the murder weapon and that the red tinge on it was dried blood from the murder victim.

In this example, it would seem reasonable that Mark would refuse to take the tool from his colleague, given that he doesn’t have a close relationship with the colleague and that the request is very odd. A judge might decide that this should be a felony charge. It is considered a wobbler because the aid came after the murder transpired, but it is up to the judge to look at the events of the case and decide whether to charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Let’s look at another example:

Tina is getting into her car late at night in an abandoned parking garage. A man jumps out from behind a beam holding a gun. He demands that she get in the car and drive him to an undisclosed location. The man is covered in a sticky substance and continues to hold the gun to the back of Tina’s chair while she drives him. At one point, he tells her to stop. He then gets out of the car and leaves. Later, police investigated the case and used camera footage from the parking garage to follow up with Tina. They confirm the blood from the victim and DNA from the murderer in the back of her car and charge her as an accessory after the fact.

In this case, it is much more likely that Tina would be charged with a misdemeanor and that she could build a solid defense with the help of her attorney that she was under duress. All of the evidence points to the fact that she did not knowingly and willingly help the murderer.

What Defenses Are There to Being an Accessory to Murder?

If you are charged with being an accessory to murder, you must find a law firm with an attorney who can help cultivate an effective defense.

If a person committed a criminal offense under the penal code, they may not have done so knowingly. Some of the most prominent defenses to charges like aiding and abetting in most jurisdictions have to do with situations when:

  1. Someone did not realize that they were an accomplice to murder. Perhaps an accomplice to murders helped a friend in need or even a stranger but did not realize that the person they helped was planning to commit a murder or had already committed murder.

  2. No murder was actually committed.

  3. Someone was acting under duress. This happens when a murderer has forced someone at gunpoint to give them money to help them escape or has broken into someone’s home and taken their car after forcing them to hand over the keys.

If you look at the example involving Tina above, a clear defense would be that she acted under duress, which effectively means that the murderer made Tina help him get away.

Defenses for the other two examples might include not realizing that they were helping someone plan a murder or get away with murder.

Conclusion

The accessory to murder sentence is really based on the circumstances of the situation, the murder that took place, and the degree of murder — first or second degree. Overall, an accessory to murder is anyone who helps someone plan a murder or helps them after a murder has been committed.

The charges vary based on whether the person helped before or after the murder took place. Helping before carries a felony charge, whereas helping after can carry a felony or a misdemeanor charge. In different circumstances, good attorneys can help build viable defenses, particularly in cases where someone is acting under duress.

Legal Disclaimer

Please note that Lawrina does not provide any legal services. The information on Lawrina’s Site and its downloadable content, including legal articles and templates, shall not be considered legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, and up-to-date. If you require legal advice on your issue, we recommend you contact a qualified attorney licensed in your state. You personally assume full responsibility for any consequences, damages, and costs associated with your use of any content of Lawrina Services available on Lawrina’s Site. 

By using Lawrina’s Site you agree with mentioned above and give your irrevocable consent to comply with and to be bound by the provisions of Lawrina Service terms. 

Also Read

Bench Warrant in Florida: Understanding How It Works
What is a bench warrant in Florida? How do you find out if you have a bench warrant? And what can you do about it? We answer all your questions about Florida bench warrants here, from different types of warrants to how to find out if one has been made in your name, as well as what to do (and not do) when a bench warrant has been issued for you. Bench Warrants vs Arrest Warrants What is a bench warrant meaning in Florida? And are all warrants the same? No, there are actually two different kinds o
Civil Case vs. Criminal Case: What’s the Difference?
According to U.S. law, there are two different types of legal cases: civil cases and criminal cases. But how is a civil case different from a criminal case? Broadly speaking, the state initiates a criminal case, which deals with issues that affect society. A business or individual seeking financial compensation initiates a civil case. However, there are many more differences between civil vs criminal cases that are important to understand. This guide will explain the difference between a civil a
Civil Contempt vs. Criminal Contempt: What Is the Difference?
Understanding the law often requires distinguishing between similar legal terms with different meanings. Contempt of court meaning is a prime example. The concept may seem straightforward, but it significantly differs when it is divided into a civil and criminal contempt. Both are tools in the judiciary's arsenal to enforce orders and maintain respect for the legal process, yet they serve different purposes, have distinctive procedures, and lead to separate outcomes. This guide will set things c
Complete Guide on How to Start a Class Action Lawsuit
Introduction When a group of people has the same issues against the same defendant, usually a company that operates on a massive scale, they can come together and file one lawsuit. Whether you've suffered a breach of contract, fallen victim to discriminatory employment practices, or endured the consequences of a falsely advertised product, understanding class action lawsuits could be the first step toward your rightful compensation. If you wonder, "How do I file a class action lawsuit?" this gui
Class X Felony: Ultimate Legal Guide
Crimes that carry severe consequences are typically designated into one of two categories: misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are less severe crimes, while felonies are significantly more serious. Within the category of felony charges, there are various criminal charges an individual might face based on the severity of the felony. The most severe are class X felonies. But what is a class X felony in detail? In most states, a crime becomes much more severe if there is a weapon involved. When
Conspiracy Charges Sentences
In criminal law, criminal conspiracy occurs when two or more people come together and create a plan to carry out a criminal offense. To commit a conspiracy charge in Texas, the crime itself does not necessarily need to have taken place, rather there needs to be an intention for it to happen, and at least one party must commit an overt act in furtherance of the crime. For example, purchasing a gun may not be considered a criminal conspiracy Texas, but if the gun was purchased for use in a planned
Detained vs. Arrested: What’s the Difference?
In legal terms, there are significant differences between being convicted vs detained. Common law dictates that investigatory detention refers to holding someone while a suspicious situation is being checked out. When the detention continues beyond a specific time limit, it can be considered an arrest. Whereas, in comparison, an arrest is usually made under the statutory authority found in Title 18 of the United States Code and its supplemental terms, in which an individual may be held for a pro
What Is the Difference Between Burglary and Larceny?
Millions of larceny thefts occur yearly in the United States, including pick-pocketing, shoplifting, car snatching, and bag snatching. Similarly, over a million cases of burglary have been reported the previous 2023 in the United States. Even as state agencies and law enforcement work tirelessly to manage and control crimes, a clear understanding of the specific crimes they are addressing is vital. This clarity extends to the relationship between clients and their attorneys. A well-informed clie
All Guides
    Business
    Personal
      Consumer Protection Law
      Criminal Law
        Accessory to Murder: What Does It Mean?
        Bench Warrant in Florida: Understanding How It Works
        Civil Case vs. Criminal Case: What’s the Difference?
        Civil Contempt vs. Criminal Contempt: What Is the Difference?
        Class X Felony: Ultimate Legal Guide
        Complete Guide on How to Start a Class Action Lawsuit
        Conspiracy Charges Sentences
        Detained vs. Arrested: What’s the Difference?
        Dismissal vs. Expungement: What Is the Difference?
        Extortion vs. Coercion: What's the Difference?
        Florida Withhold of Adjudication
        How Long Does a Felony Stay on Record?
        How to Charge Someone With Trespassing
        How to Sue Someone: Step-by-Step Guide
        Indiana Self-Defense Laws
        Infraction vs. Misdemeanor: What’s the Difference?
        Intro to Second Degree Assault
        Probation Violation in Virginia
        Probation vs Parole: What Is the Difference?
        Public Intoxication in Texas
        Stand Your Ground Law in Georgia
        Stun Gun Laws by State: The Legal Guide
        The Difference Between Direct Examination and Cross-Examination
        The Difference Between First, Second, and Third-Degree Murders
        The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter
        Theft by Deception: Laws & Legal Definition
        What Happens at a Plea Hearing: All You Need to Know
        What Happens at an Arraignment?
        What Is a Bail Bond and How Does It Work?
        What Is a Motion to Dismiss? Understanding Legal Terms
        What Is Deferred Adjudication?
        What Is Guilty By Association in Law?
        What Is House Arrest & How Does It Work?
        What Is Simple Assault?
        What Is the Difference Between Burglary and Larceny?
      Estate Planning Law
      Family Law
      Immigration Law
    Real Estate