A person who assists in the commission of a crime but doesn’t commit the crime himself or herself is more likely to face aiding and abetting charges. The assistance in the crime commission can be through providing information, financial support, motivation, or acting as a get-away driver. The person can also face conspiracy charges depending on the level of his or her involvement in the commission of the crime. Aiding and abetting charges differ greatly in each state, with the crimes attracting varying punishments.
Understanding Aiding and Abetting Charges
There is a thin line between aiding and abetting charges. Aiding constitutes helping or assisting another person to commit an offense. Abetting is encouraging or motivating another person to commit a crime. Aiding and abetting as a term mainly describes a single act.
Defining a Principal and an Accessory
A principal is a person directly responsible for carrying out a criminal act. A person involved in assisting the principal to commit a crime is called an accessory. Aiding and abetting charges require the existence of both the principal and an accessory.
Main Elements of Aiding and Abetting Charges
For a person to be charged with aiding and abetting crimes, the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- There was a commission of a crime by a principal;
- The accessory knowingly assisted, guided, commanded, motivated, or procured the perpetrator;
- The accessory’s actions facilitated or could have facilitated the crime; and
- The accessory acted prior to the completion of the crime.
A defense attorney can poke holes into the prosecutor’s evidence to help get the charges reduced or dropped completely.
Common Forms of Aiding and Abetting Crimes
Provision of Motivation
If a person persuades or hires another person to commit a crime, he or she may be liable for aiding and abetting. A person can also face aiding and abetting charges if he or she fails to prevent a crime from happening by informing or reporting to the police.
Provision of Information and/or Equipment
If a person knowingly provides information and/or equipment that will facilitate the commission of a crime, he or she can be held liable for aiding and abetting a crime. Passwords, building plans, work plans, and firearms are examples of information and equipment that a criminal may require to commit a crime.
Serving as a Get-Away Driver
A driver who helps a crime perpetrator escape from a crime scene qualifies as an accomplice. Courts view the escape phase as part of a criminal offense, especially for robbery cases.
What are the Penalties for Aiding and Abetting a Crime?
Aiding and abetting crimes attract varying punishments in different states. A misdemeanor could attract one year of jail time and a few thousand dollars in fines. A felony could result in several years in prison and greater fines.
In some states, a person accused of aiding and abetting a crime may present a defense of withdrawal. A criminal defense attorney who is familiar with local aiding and abetting laws can assess the facts of the case and develop a strong defense strategy to help the accused person obtain a favorable verdict in the case.