An individual who helps but does not participate in the crime is known as an accessory. The variations in this are based on the facts of the case and how severe the crime is. The principal is the one whose acts or omissions and the relevant intent are the most immediate cause of the crime.
But, if there are two or more people, they can be charged as joint principals if they are directly connected with the act. The main test determines whether the act would be a joint principal from an accessory or whether the defendant independently caused the act.
In some jurisdictions, an accessory is separate from an accomplice. An accomplice is present at the crime and gets involved in some manner. Another main difference is that an accessory must be aware that a crime is being committed, will be, or has been committed. Individuals who hold this information can become an accessory if they encourage the crime. There are many ways a crime can be assisted, for example, through emotional, financial, or physical means.
To be convicted of an accessory charge, the accused must prove that the person knew that a crime was occurring, about to occur, or had been committed. Furthermore, there must be evidence that the accessory knew that their action, or inaction, assisted the criminals to commit the crime, evade detection, or escape. Moreover, Some jurisdictions have criminal facilitation laws that are used in some crimes. You can research this more in your state on the local county government website.
Lastly, there are a few exceptions. In most jurisdictions, a person cannot be charged as an accessory to a crime committed by one’s spouse. This is connected to the traditional privilege not to testify against an accused spouse. Furthermore, an accessory cannot be tried before the principal’s conviction. Unless they are both tried together, or there is consent to being tried first.
What Are The Penalties?
As with all crimes, the punishment and penalties vary depending on the severity and the type of crime. The penalties for accessories vary in different jurisdictions. The judge will consider all the facts and evidence of the case to determine the criminal sentence. Generally, accessories are subject to lesser penalties than principals (those who commit the crime). In other states, accessories are considered the same as principals in theory, although an accessory is treated less severely than a principal in most cases.
However, there is a distinction between accessories before the fact and accessories after the fact, which is when the person knew about the crime before it was committed. After the fact is when the person helps after a crime is committed but did not participate in the crime itself. Traditionally common law considers an accessory just as guilty as the principal(s) in a crime and subject to the same penalties.
What Happens When Conspiracy Is Involved?
For conspiracy charges, even if the main offense did not occur, prosecutors can still file charges so long as the plan was created and at least one act was committed by one of the conspirators. For example, if a group plans to rob a bank and they have already made the preparations to execute the plan, even if they decide to return, they may still be charged for doing the act of the crime. Due to this, the accessory before the fact has information about the plan and did not stop it; therefore, they would also be considered a conspirator.
A conspirator must have been a party to the planning of the crime rather than becoming aware of the plan to commit it and helping in some way. Furthermore, according to Wiki, “a person who incites another to a crime will become a part of a conspiracy if an agreement is reached, and may then be considered an accessory or a joint principal if the crime is eventually committed.”
Crimes have different variations of penalties depending on the circumstances and the facts of what occurred. It is a general rule nationwide that an individual who knows of the crime and assists before it is carried out is called an “accessory before the fact.” And a person who learns about the crime after it is committed and does not report it is considered an “accessory after the fact.” Depending on the severity of the crime, the charges will vary.
How Can You Be Found Guilty Of Being An Accessory After The Fact?
All states have a criminal statute for each crime and what happens if the crime occurs. For instance, for a person to be found guilty of being an accessory after the fact, they must meet the following criteria:
- You were aware that the person committed was charged with, or was convicted of a felony and;
- You concealed evidence, helped, or lied to law enforcement.
However, not all situations will find you guilty of the crime, especially if you were not at the crime scene, did not have a relationship with the person, and did not have information about the crime or the criminal. Furthermore, one of the more challenging things about this type of crime is proving the knowledge aspect. For instance, the prosecution must demonstrate that you had actual knowledge of the crime. Merely suspicion that the felony was committed does not meet the muster.
Here are some scenarios that would yield a viable defense for you. For instance, if your roommate calls you and says they need a change of clothes and you provide it for them. But later, they are charged with a felony. You did not know about their activities, and you did not know that they committed a felony.
Another situation is if you had a friend named Sally and knew she illegally possessed a gun. Also, you knew she was a convicted felon. Later, Sally commits a murder and asks you to get rid of the gun. In this case, you would not be charged as an accessory after the fact to murder since you did not know that the gun was used in the murder.
But, you could still be charged with being an accessory after the fact regarding the gun violation because you knew that Sally was already a convicted felon who owned a gun. The prosecution must show that you knew the felon personally. Besides the name, you must know their identity. Lastly, concealing information about the crime can potentially lead to further charges. Therefore, if you do not want to be involved or charged, reporting the crime to the local authorities is important.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
As mentioned above, accessories can be charged separately depending on the facts of the case. If you have been charged with an accessory to a felony, contact a local criminal lawyer to understand your rights and what defenses you may have in the case. You should abstain from concealing any information regarding the crime, which could lead you to be potentially charged.