You aren’t allowed to compound a crime in California. If you’re caught doing so, the legal ramifications will be severe.
Compounding a crime is the act of taking something of value, such as money, for the specific purpose of hiding a crime from the police. Examples of this include taking money in exchange for hiding security camera footage that recorded a nearby hit-and-run accident, accepting a lavish gift that was given so you wouldn’t tell the police what you knew about a break-in, or letting someone pay you in exchange for you not reporting a serious assault.
California lawmakers outlined compounding a crime in Penal Code 153 PC. The law states that:
“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.”
Most people assume that they can only be charged with compounding a crime if they take money in exchange for covering up the crime, but that’s not strictly true. While money is the most commonly used motivator for concealing a crime, it’s not the only option. You can be charged with compounding a crime if, in exchange for your silence, you accept:
- Valuables such as jewelry, land, antiques, etc.
It’s important to note that you could actually be charged with compounding a crime even if nothing of value has actually been exchanged. If the police learn that an agreement was made between you and the suspect to exchange something of value for your silence, you will be charged with compounding a crime, though it’s harder for the prosecution to prove their case if there was simply the promise of an exchange.
There are a few different actions that could prompt the police to charge you with compounding a crime. Examples include:
- Failing to report a crime
- Deliberately misleading the police when you’re questioned about the incident
- Withholding evidence
Compounding a crime is one of California’s wobbler crimes. Whether you’re charged with a misdemeanor or felony depends on the type of charges the person whose crime you tried to hide is charged with. If they’re charged with a felony, you’ll also face felony charges. If they’re charged with a misdemeanor, you’ll face misdemeanor charges.
The general rule of thumb is that if someone offers you anything in exchange for not reporting a crime, you shouldn’t take the deal. It’s in your best interest to contact the police and tell them everything you know.