It’s important to understand that you don’t have to commit a crime directly (acting as the “principal”) to still be charged as an accessory to the crime. To form a definition of an accessory to a crime, it is also important to define related terms:
- Aiding: Assisting an individual to commit a crime.
- Abetting: Encouraging another to commit a crime. This is usually used in conjunction with “aiding a crime”.
- Accomplice: An accomplice to a crime intentionally provides assistance or encourages another to commit a crime. Examples include distracting a security guard or assisting with the transportation of goods that were stolen. An accomplice can also be an aider and abettor to a crime, in that they participated in a passive manner rather than committing the actual crime. Accessories to crime tend to be prosecuted at the same level as the principal who committed the crime.
- Accessory: An accessory to a crime is distinct from an accomplice. In order to be an accessory, an individual still provides encouragement or assistance with a crime, but the activity usually takes place before or after the crime has been committed—an accessory is typically not present at the crime scene itself. An accessory is usually distinguished between “after the fact” or “before the fact”.
- Before the fact: aiding, abetting, inciting a crime, encouraging a crime, or inciting a crime.
- After the fact: Sheltering an individual, assisting an individual after the fact, or helping in a cover-up.
Features Of Accessories To a Crime
An individual could be reasonably charged with “accessory to a crime” if:
- There is knowledge and/or assistance of a crime being performed by the “principal” (the individual who commits the crime). This includes learning of a crime after the fact and, even if the individual does not condone the crime, still provides assistance or cover-up. This can include housing the individual, helping them destroy evidence of the crime, or helping them conceal the crime. For example, an individual may be in a car when the driver drunkenly strikes a person. Taking the wheel of the vehicle after the fact would count as acting as an accessory.
- If they provide information or means for another to commit a crime. An example would be taking a key to help with a break-in, reporting on lapses of security, or suggesting a crime that could be committed.
Conspiracy to Commit a Crime
There are circumstances where a crime isn’t committed, yet individuals are still charged. This is known as conspiracy, which can be similar to being an accessory if there are plans to commit a crime or encouragement to commit a crime. If an accessory acts before the fact, they are often charged with conspiracy.
An individual can also be charged with a conspiracy if there is an agreement made beforehand, even if one does not plan to act out the actual crime itself. There must usually be some type of overt action, or a step taken to plan or execute the crime. An example would be meeting up for drinks or coffee to plan the crime, even if there are not steps taken beyond that point.
Necessary Proof to Charge with “Accessory to a Crime”
The burden of proof is on the prosecution. They will need to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the following was true in order to prove that someone was an accessory to a crime:
- Provides assistance to someone who has committed a crime
- Assistance was provided before or after the commission of the crime
- Assistance was provided with the knowledge that an individual committed a crime
- Attempting to help the principal avoid arrest or punishment, which can also count as “obstruction of justice” if true.
Possible Defenses Against Charges
There are a number of possible defenses against accessory to criminal charges, which include:
- Duress: Someone who is an accessory to a crime knowingly participates under their own free will. If someone was forced under threat to assist in the commission of a crime, they are not liable.
- Intent: The individual has to, with intent, act as an accessory. If the individual did not intend to act as an accessory to the crime, then they are not liable.
- Foreseeability: The crime must be reasonably foreseeable for an individual to be liable.
- Withdrawal: An accessory can withdraw support for the crime or consent to participate as an accessory. There are some states that require that the individual actively try to stop the crime in order for the withdrawal defense to be used.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully charged as an accessory to a crime, De Castroverde Law Group is available to provide you with the defense you deserve. Request a free case evaluation today!