Justice Column

By: News Release
Sep 30th, 2017

This 81st edition of Justice For All explores the crime of being an accessory after the fact.

Iowa Code Chapter 703.3 makes it illegal to harbor, aid, or conceal any person who is known to have committed a public offense with the intent to prevent the apprehension of that person unless you are that person’s husband or wife. Anyone who violates this provision of the law is an accessory after the fact.

If the accessory after the fact assists a criminal who has committed a felony then the accessory is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of not less than $625 and not more than $6,250. If the accessory after the fact assists a criminal who has committed a misdemeanor then the accessory is guilty of a simple misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of not less than $65 and not more than $625. In other words, the punishment level for the accessory is never more than and almost always less than the punishment level for the person who committed the offense.

The most common actions that make a person an accessory after the fact are hiding a fugitive in the accessory’s residence and giving assistance in the form of a vehicle or money to help a fugitive avoid being captured by law enforcement. Driving the “getaway car” might qualify for an accessory after the fact charge but might also qualify for a more serious conspiracy or aiding and abetting charge if the driver knew of the crime before he or she helped in the escape instead of not knowing of the crime until after it was committed.

Perhaps the most famous person who might be thought of as an accessory after the fact but was never in fact convicted of any crime is Al "A.C." Cowlings, who was the driver of O.J. Simpson’s White Ford Bronco in the 1994 slow-speed chase seen around the world. Cowlings was charged with harboring a fugitive which appears to be a California version of Iowa’s accessory after the fact law. Cowlings claimed that Simpson was holding a gun to his head during the chase and was threatening to commit suicide if Cowlings didn’t follow his instructions. This may have been grounds for an “under duress” defense for Cowlings but the charge against him was ultimately dismissed by the district attorney before a trial could be held.

In sum, the charge of accessory after the fact exists to ensure that whether one commits the crime or works to help a fugitive avoid being caught everyone encounters justice for all.



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