Can someone be convicted of being an accessory to a crime while a principal is acquitted? By definition an accessory helps conceal evidence or persons involved in a felony. If a principal is not charged as a felon, but the crime is still a felony, then doesn't that require there being another principal who is the felon, or can we have a felony without a felon?

  • 1
    I suppose you can hide or destroy evidence against someone, or provide a false alibi for someone who is accused of a crime, whether that person did the crime or not.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 18, 2018 at 12:04
  • 2
    Or you may have situations where it is proven that A or B did the crime but not which one (and the other is known to be innocent, so nobody can be convicted), but it is also proven that whoever did it, you helped them.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 18, 2018 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


Of course

The prosecution just needs to prove that the crime happened (or the defendant believed it to have happened) and you helped (in brief, there will be specific elements of the crime that each need to be proved). This would be easier if the primary crime had a convicted perpetrator but it’s not impossible without.

Allow me to illustrate with an example. I will set out facts which are somewhat contrived and would not be so clear cut in a real case but for the purposes of the example please take them as undisputed and fully supported by evidence.

  • John and Jill are in a relationship.
  • This relationship is well known to be argumentative with frequent shouting matches and one or the other storming out.
  • This does not amount to domestic violence by either party.
  • John's friend Alan believes (wrongly) that there is domestic violence.
  • During an argument Jill drops dead of a heart attack.
  • John rings Alan distraught and says "I've killed her."
  • Alan assumes (wrongly) that John has murdered Jill.
  • Alan says "i'll take care of it. You go to your dad's".
  • Alan (alone) disposes of the body.
  • John is not guilty of murder (or indeed, anything).
  • Alan is guilty of accessory to murder even though the actual crime never happened. The fact that Alan believed it happened is enough.
  • Would an example be a case like the following? Peter makes written statements that are said to have included information linking him to a crime. John, a supervisor liable for Peter's actions and unsure as to whether the documents incriminate Peter, destroys these documents in hope of their existence never even being brought up. Because there is not enough evidence at the time of trial to convict Peter, he is acquitted. But because it is known that John destroyed documents related to the crime, he can be prosecuted as an accessory, regardless of who else is involved.
    – kleinerde
    Feb 18, 2018 at 21:11
  • @TQuile1948 No, John is not an accessory to Peter’s crime - he committed the independent crime of attempting to pervert the course of justice, or evidence tampering, or failing to report, or ...
    – Dale M
    Feb 18, 2018 at 21:41
  • Thanks. Ok. Would an example be a case in which Peter is shown to be not guilty of a felony crime by reason of insanity or other mental incapacity while John is still guilty of being an accessory for trying to cover his tracks?
    – kleinerde
    Feb 18, 2018 at 22:43
  • @TQuile1948 I'll add an example.
    – Dale M
    Feb 18, 2018 at 22:58
  • Thank you. That makes more sense. An accessory is someone who had a specific intent to conceal a crime. The definitions I've read do not seem to cover this kind of case, but I understand the codes are up for interpretation. (cmcdefense.com/california_penal_code_section_32.php)
    – kleinerde
    Feb 18, 2018 at 23:34

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