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What is “Aiding and Abetting” criminal activity?
Aiding and abetting involves providing assistance to someone accused of a crime. The assistance must relate to the criminal activity, such as assistance preparing to commit the crime, covering up the criminal activity, or evading law enforcement. This charge can be very similar to conspiracy. Under state law, the crime of aiding and abetting is often referred to as “accessory”. An individual can be an accessory before or after the commission of the crime. “Accessory before the fact” means that the individual helps in preparation of the criminal activity. “Accessory after the fact” means that the individual helps conceal or cover up the crime.
Discussion: When should offering general support to an individual who commits a crime constitute accessory? Is a person an accessory if she knowingly provides the accused with a weapon or tools to commit a crime? What if the third party simply provides information to the accused that is useful in committing the crime? What if a person allows the accused to stay with them after learning that there is a warrant for the accused’s arrest?
- As you can imagine, it is very difficult to draw a bright line that says what is “aiding and abetting” or “accessory”. The determination generally requires evaluating numerous situational factors. Most would agree that knowingly providing someone a tool with the purpose of committing a crime would qualify. The opinion might change if you imaging providing someone a computer software that allows individuals to share pirating music content. Simply providing information about the opportunity to commit a crime may not seem like a crime to most people. Most people would consider harboring an accused individual to be a crime. That perspective may change if that person is a family member or friend.
Practice Question: Hank commits a violent crime and is on the run from the police. Prior to committing the crime, he expressed to his friend, Joanna, that he needed a handgun to rob someone. Joanna, ever the loyal friend, helps him acquire the gun. After the crime is committed, Hank flees and asks his mother Edith for help in leaving the state. Edith allows Hank to take her vehicle and flee the state. Has Joanna or Edith committed crimes?
- The crime of aiding and abetting involves one person knowingly assisting another accused of a crime to escape blame, punishment or even conviction. The elements necessary to convict a person under aiding and abetting are:
- That the accused had specific intent to facilitate the commission of a crime by another.
- That the accused had the requisite intent of the underlying substantive offense.
- That the accused assisted or participated in the commission of the underlying substantive offense
- That someone committed the underlying offense.
In the example from the practice question, both Joanna and Edith are likely guilty of committing the crime of aiding and abetting. Joanna could be charged of knowingly providing the perpetrator with a weapon that he intended to use to commit a robbery. Edith could be charged with knowingly assisting the perpetrator in fleeing from law enforcement after he commits the crime. https://www.justice.gov/jm/criminal-resource-manual-2474-elements-aiding-and-abetting