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Accessory Before-After the Fact

At the MA law firm of Altman & Altman, LLP, we understand the difficulties faced by those charged with accessory before-after the fact. For over 40 years, Altman & Altman, LLP has provided outstanding legal represented to those accused with crimes in courts throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Throughout the entire process, our lawyers will fully explain your rights and will explore any and all legal avenue available.

An accessory, or a person who aids in the commission of a crime, can be charged in Massachusetts as an accessory before the fact or an accessory after the fact. An accessory before the fact is defined as someone who “counsels, hires or otherwise procures a felony to be committed.” An accessory after the fact is defines as someone who, after the commission of the felony, “harbors, conceals, maintains, or assists the principal felon.” As the names of the crimes suggest, one is charged for helping before the crime and another is for helping the principal after the crime has already been committed. When prosecuting or defending accessory offenses, there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration from where the crime took place to what the principal felony committed was.

While common law dictates that no accessory can be charged without the principal (the person that committed the crime for which the defendant was the accessory) being charged, the accessory can’t be charged, this approach has evolved in recent years. The Massachusetts legislature specifically rejected this approach, writing into the code that even if the principal is not charged, the accessory can still be charged and convicted. In looking into the principal and the felony committed, its important to look into the jurisdiction responsible for charging the principal. Accessory defendants should be charged in the county where the principal defendant committed the crime, not where the help provided by the accessory actually occurred.

Throughout the course of trial, it’s important to prove a number of elements in order to convict the defendant for being an accessory. First, the prosecutor must show that there was a felony committed. The crime of accessory before or after the fact is predicated on the idea that a felony offense was committed, making it necessary to prove this in trial. Second, the prosecutor must show that the defendant had the specific intent to help in the commission or the concealing of the crime. As the law recognizes, its possible for an innocent defendant to inadvertently help a guilty party commit a crime, without knowing the consequences of his actions. Finally, the prosecutor must show that the act committed by the defendant either helped with the commission of the crime or aided in the concealment of the crime. Built into the statute, however, is an exception for those that are an accessory after the fact. If a defendant can show that he is a direct family member to the principal, then defendant cannot be convicted. Direct family member includes husband or wife, parent or grandparent, child or grandchild, or a brother or sister of the defendant.

While both of these crimes are incredibly similar, their punishments are very different. For an accessory before the fact, the defendant is subject to the punishment provided for in the principal crime. This means that the punishment provided varies greatly depending on the crime that the defendant counseled the principal to commit. For an accessory after the fact, the defendant is subject to imprisonment for up to seven years in addition to a fine of $1,000.

MA Accessory Before-After the Fact Attorneys

Our experienced team of MA accessory before-after the fact lawyers are available around the clock - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All initial consultations with our firm are free-of-charge.

If you have been charged with these or any other crimes, call the dedicated criminal defense attorneys of Altman & Altman at 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 toll-free, or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with a member of our Greater Boston Criminal Defense Lawyers.


ACCESSORY, Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009), accessory.

Distinctions Between Accessory Before the Fact and Principal, Volume 19, Issue 1, Washington and Lee Law Review.

GL ch. 274, § 3.

GL ch. 274, § 2.

GL ch. 274, § 4.

GL ch. 274, § 5.

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