In the State of California, if you agree to conceal the commission of a crime in exchange for any compensation (monetary or otherwise), you can be prosecuted at or near the same level of severity as the original crime itself.
This is known as compounding, a crime defined under California Penal Code 153 PC. Simply put, this law prohibits "compounding a crime," which is taking money or anything of value in exchange for concealing a crime, withholding evidence, or abstaining from prosecuting the crime.
PC 153 says, “Every person who, having knowledge of the actual commission of a crime, takes money or property of another, or any gratuity or reward, or any engagement, or promise thereof, upon any agreement or understanding to compound or conceal that crime, or to abstain from any prosecution thereof, or to withhold any evidence thereof, except in the cases provided for by law, in which crimes may be compromised by leave of court, is punishable as follows:
1. By imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, where the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison for life;
2. By imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, where the crime was punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for any other term than for life;
3. By imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), where the crime was a misdemeanor.”
Compounding a crime often happens when money is offered in exchange for helping hide evidence of a crime. This could come in the form of bribery, paying somebody to lie when questioned by the police, or convincing someone to dispose of evidence. Let's take a closer look at this state law below.
What Is Compounding a Crime?
In legal parlance, compounding a crime refers to the act of accepting a bribe or any form of benefit in exchange for concealing a crime.
It also includes refraining from reporting it, withholding evidence, hindering its prosecution, or, if you are a prosecutor, agreeing not to prosecute it. In simpler terms, it is the act of being “paid off” to keep silent about a crime.
Law enforcement officers and prosecutors could be charged with compounding a crime if there's evidence that they made a financial deal that encouraged them to stop investigating it.
Under PC 153, if someone has information about a crime committed and then accepts money, property, or any reward with an agreement to cover up that crime, not take legal action or withhold evidence, they are guilty of a crime.
The one exception is when crimes can be settled by court permission. This definition is broad, encompassing various forms of benefits and crimes. It is not limited to monetary bribes; the underlying crime could be anything from petty theft to serious felonies.
What Are the Elements of the Crime?
To convict you of compounding a crime, the prosecution must establish certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt—namely:
- You knew about a crime that had been committed;
- You received or were promised a benefit in exchange for not disclosing the crime; and
- You acted with the specific intent to prevent the crime's disclosure or prosecution.
Evidence to support these elements could include witness testimony, surveillance footage, financial records, or any other tangible proof showing the receipt of a benefit and the defendant's knowledge of the crime.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Bank manager Jeannie discovers that one of her employees has been embezzling funds. Instead of reporting the crime to law enforcement, she confronts the employee privately. The employee offers her some of the stolen money in exchange for her silence, and Jeannie accepts. She can be charged with compounding a crime under PC 153.
EXAMPLE 2: Dave is a local municipality district attorney currently investigating Bill for suspected drug trafficking. Bill approaches Dave behind a bar one night and offers him $100,000 to drop the investigation and not file charges. Dave accepts. Although Dave is a prosecutor, he can be charged and prosecuted under PC 153.
What Are the Penalties for PC 153?
The penalties for compounding a crime depend mainly on how the underlying crime is charged. Compounding a misdemeanor is always charged as a misdemeanor. Compounding a felony is a "wobbler" offense, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
For misdemeanor compounding of a crime, you could face:
- For most underlying crimes: up to 6 months in county jail;
- If the underlying crime is a felony carrying a life or death sentence: up to one year in county jail;
- For any felony charge compounding a crime, you could face 16 months, two years, or three years in prison.
What Are the Defenses for PC 153?
As discussed below, a skilled California defense attorney can employ several strategies to contest charges of compounding a crime.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. If your attorney can show that you were unaware that a crime had been committed, you cannot be proven guilty of compounding that crime.
Perhaps we can argue there was no benefit received. If your attorney can show you did not accept a benefit to conceal a crime, you cannot be found guilty under Penal Code 153 PC.
However, if you conceal a crime without compensation, you could be charged with aiding and abetting defined under Penal Code 31 PC.
If you are accused of compounding a crime, it is crucial to seek expert legal counsel immediately. Here are some tips to help build a strong defense:
- Maintain your right to remain silent: Avoid discussing your case with anyone other than your attorney.
- Preserve all evidence: Keep relevant documents, emails, or text messages that could aid your defense.
- Cooperate with your attorney: Be honest and forthcoming with your defense counsel to help them build the most effective strategy.
You can contact our law firm to review the case details and discuss the legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.