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Aiding and Abetting a Crime aka Accomplice Liability

Aiding and Abetting is a crime also known as “accomplice liability” and is delineated in Penal Code Section 31. It occurs when a person (the “the aider and abettor”) helps and aids another person (the “principal’) to commit a crime. In other words, they assisted another person in their committing a crime, even if they were not directly involved in the execution of the crime, nor entered into an agreement to commit the crime (which is a separate crime known as “conspiracy”.) Merely knowing that a crime is about to happen is insufficient; there must be some voluntary involvement in the crime for there to be aiding and abetting. An aider and abettor is guilty of the underlying crime and its punishment, even if they are not present at the crime scene.

A typical aiding and abetting situation arises when a party does something to help a crime occur such as leaving the door to a business where they work unlocked so the perpetrator can enter the business and rob it. Even though the person leaving the door unlocked did not actually take anything, nor were they even present when the crime was committed, they aided and abetted the perpetrator in committing the crime and are as guilty as the perpetrator and subject to the same punishments.

What are the Elements of the Crime the Prosecutor Must Prove?

“Elements” are facts that a prosecutor must prove occurred beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a person of a crime. In order to prove that aiding and abetting occurred the prosecutor must prove:

  • The perpetrator committed the crime;
  • The defendant knew that the perpetrator intended to commit the crime;
  • That before or during the commission of the crime, the defendant intended to aid and abet the perpetrator in committing the crime; and
  • The defendant’s words or conduct did in fact aid and abet the perpetrator’s commission of the crime.

Someone aids and abets a crime if he or she knows of the perpetrator’s unlawful purpose and he or she specifically intends to, and does in fact, aid, facilitate, promote, encourage, or instigate the perpetrator’s commission of that crime. If these requirements are met the person does not need to be present when the crime was committed. A person who aids and abets a crime is not guilty of that crime if he or she withdraws before the crime is committed. To withdraw a person must do two things:

  • He or she must notify everyone else he or she knows is involved in the commission of the crime that he or she is no longer participating and the notification must be made early enough to prevent the commission of the crime;
  • He or she must do everything reasonably within his or her power to prevent the crime from being committed. He or she does not have to actually prevent the crime.

What are the Penalties for Aiding and Abetting?

Except in the case of aiding and abetting murder, the accomplice is considered a principal in the crime and subject to the same punishments as the principal. Thus the penalties for aiding and abetting will depend upon the underlying charge. Therefore, if the underlying crime is a misdemeanor, which usually carries up to one year in the county jail, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. If the underlying crime is a felony, which carries a minimum of 16 months in state prison, you will be charged with a felony.

What are some of the Defenses to a Charge of Aiding and Abetting?

  • The first defense is that you have been falsely accused. A trial may be necessary to prove it and an experienced criminal defense attorney is an absolute must.
  • You had absolutely no knowledge that the other person was going to commit a crime.
  • You did not advise, encourage, counsel, contrive, force, threaten, menace, command or compel the other person to commit the crime.
  • You did not intend to commit the crime.
  • Whatever assistance you gave did not really assist in the crime.
  • Whatever assistance you gave was not given either knowingly or willingly.

What Can a Good Attorney do for Me?

You need to hire an attorney experienced with the law, cases, and procedures concerning aiding and abetting and accomplice crimes immediately after you are arrested. Aiding and abetting is a serious crime with potentially serious consequences. A good criminal attorney can thoroughly investigate the case, make certain all defense is explored, explain the procedures involved and leave no stone unturned in trying to obtain and keeping your freedom. Call Kenneth H. Lewis now for help with any aiding and abetting charge.

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