A San Diego man has been arrested for his suspected role in a 2016 San Diego murder. For the past two years, police have suspected that the man accused of the murder had help fleeing the scene. Earlier this month, the District Attorney’s Office received a tip that pointed them in the direction of 23-year-old Jaen Avila Soto. Soto is believed to have been the getaway driver after the brutal attack on the young woman. He has been arrested and charged with being an accessory after the fact.
What is an Accessory After the Fact?
In California, it’s illegal to help another person commit or get away with a crime. Helping another person in this way can result in serious criminal charges. When assistance comes after the crime has already been committed, you will be considered an accessory after the fact.
The crime, as defined in Penal Code 32 PC, occurs when you:
- Harbor, conceal, or aid
- A principal in a felony
- With the intent to help that person avoid or escape arrest, trial, conviction, or punishment
- Knew the person committed, has been charged with, or has been convicted of the felony
- After the crime has been committed.
In other words, you’ll be considered an accessory after the fact if you help a person evade responsibility or punishment for a felony after it’s been committed.
Actions and Knowledge Required to Be an Accessory
There are two primary components of criminal behavior – your actions and your intentions.
Actus Reus: Actions, which are known as the actus reus, are the physical acts that make up a crime. When you’re accused of being an accessory after the fact, you must harbor, conceal, or aid the principal in a felony. These behaviors require specific actions or conduct.
Mens Rea: Actions aren’t the only component of criminal behavior. Many crimes, including accessory after the fact, require you to have malicious intent or knowledge. In order to be an accessory after the fact, you must have:
- Known the principal in the felony has committed the crime, been charged, or been convicted; and
- Intended to help that person escape responsibility for their actions.
The state has to prove that you had the required criminal intent when you committed the illegal act. You cannot be convicted for being an accessory after the fact if you lacked the required criminal intent.
Example: Sid gets a call from his friend Don. Don asks him to pick him up from his girlfriend’s house at 7 PM sharp. Sid arrives and drives Don home. At the time, Sid doesn’t know that Don has just killed the girlfriend. Even though Sid has helped Don leave the scene of the crime, he lacked knowledge that his friend had committed the felony. Since he lacked the required criminal intent, Sid cannot be considered an accessory after the fact.
Example: Joe’s brother Steven knocks on his door one evening in a panic. Steve hands Joe a duffel bag and asks him to stash it where it can’t be discovered. Steve knows that Joe has just robbed a local convenience store. He hides the bag under a floorboard in an effort to help his brother conceal the evidence. Steve has the required knowledge and intent to be considered an accessory after the fact.
Is Being an Accessory After the Fact a Felony?
Under Penal Code 32 PC, being an accessory after the fact can be a misdemeanor or felony offense. The state will consider all of the circumstances relevant to your case to determine which charge is most appropriate. Factors that can affect the charge include prior arrests, how you helped the principal, and whether anyone was harmed as a result of your actions.
Misdemeanor: When charged as a misdemeanor, accessory after the fact is punishable by:
- 12 months in a San Diego County jail;
- $5,000 in criminal fines; and/or
Felony: When charged as a felony, accessory after the fact is punishable by:
- 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison;
- $5,000 in criminal fines; and/or
- Felony probation.
Probation, if assigned, can require you to complete drug and alcohol treatment programs, perform community service hours, find and retain gainful employment, and more.
Are you facing criminal charges in San Diego? Contact our experienced criminal defense team for help. We’ll review the details of your arrest and determine the best defense strategies for your case. A strong defense can help you avoid the harsh consequences of a conviction. Call for your free consultation today.