Crime Overview Aiding And Abetting Or Accessory

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Generally speaking, if a person assists another person or persons in a criminal act, he or she can be charged with aiding and abetting or accessory. Under different state laws, aiding and abetting and accessory vary greatly regarding their definition. Depending on the action of the crime, the participation could elevate to a conspiracy crime.

In criminal law, it is necessary to distinguish between the accessory and the principal. The principal is the person who is responsible for a particular crime. Under most legal jurisdictions, the person or persons charged with aiding and abetting or accessory are not directly involved with the crime that is committed. They are usually not present when the crime occurred. If two or more people are directly responsible, they can be charged as joint principals. The test used in order to distinguish a principal from an accessory is whether the defendant independently contributed to the causing of the crime, rather than merely giving generalized and/or limited help and encouragement.

There are three elements to most aiding and abetting charges against an individual. The first is that another person committed the crime. Second, the individual being charged had knowledge of the crime or the principals' intent. Third, the individual provided some form of assistance to the principal. An accessory in legal terms is typically defined as a person who assists in the commission of a crime committed by another or others. In most cases, a person charged with aiding and abetting or accessory has knowledge of the crime either before or after its occurrence. A person who is aware of a crime before it occurs, and who gives some form of aid to those committing the crime, is known in legal terms as an accessory before the fact. He or she may assist through advice, actions, or monetary support. A person who is unaware of the crime before it takes place, but who helps in the aftermath of the crime, is referred to as an accessory after the fact.

To be convicted as an accessory to a crime, the person must possess an awareness of the crime, either before or after its commission. Helping a person after they have committed the crime, without knowledge of the crime having taken place, may be excused in most cases. For example, a person who lets a criminal stay in their home for a period of time after they have committed a crime, but who is not aware of the crime, may not be charged as an accessory.

Punishments for accessories vary in different jurisdictions. Sometimes accessories have had lesser punishments than principals. Other times, accessories are considered to be principals. Common law traditionally considers an accessory just as guilty as the principal in a crime, and therefore subject to the same penalties.

In some situations, a charge of conspiracy can be made even if the primary offense was never committed, so long as the plan has been made, and at least one person acts towards the crime. A conspirator must have been a party to planning the crime, rather than merely becoming aware of the plan to commit it and then helping in some way.

An accomplice is considered completely different from an accessory in legal terms. An accomplice is present when the actual crime occurs, whereas the accessory or abettor can simply provide assistance beforehand or afterwards. The sentences given to accomplices in capital crimes cases have been debated for years. In the 1982 Supreme Court ruling on Enmund v. Florida, it was ruled that an accomplice may not receive the death penalty for a capital crime that was committed by another person.

Regardless of your guilt or innocence, if you have been accused of aiding and abetting, or of being an accessory to, a crime, you should consult with a criminal attorney. You can locate a criminal attorney by visiting the website of the American Bar Association, which provides a free directly of attorneys.