An accomplice is someone who intentionally helps another in committing a crime. At common law, this type of activity is usually described as "aiding and abetting" or encouraging, procuring, soliciting, or advising the commission of the crime. An accomplice who assists or helps another commit the crime can get the same type of liability and punishment as the person who commits the actual crime. An accomplice must have a requisite mental state in committing or aiding in the commission of the crime. If the accomplice does not know whether they are committing or helping another commit the crime, they would not be held liable as an accomplice because they did not have the mental state of committing the crime.
Generally, one who is found to be an accomplice is deemed liable for the crimes committed by the primary party. Some courts even consider accomplices liable for other crimes that are a "natural and probable consequence" of the crime that the accomplice aided or abetted.
Accomplices can be liable for helping the commission of the crime, such as planning the crime or providing tools to commit the crime. Accomplices can also be liable for concealing the crime from the police, such as driving a getaway vehicle. Finally, certain persons can be an accomplice for failure to prevent certain criminal conduct; teachers and other school officers, for example, have an obligation to report child abuse if they suspect a student is being abused.
There are four different categories of accomplices, based on the level of participation.
Under accomplice liability principles, a principal in the second degree and an accessory before the fact are just as liable for the crimes committed as the principal in the first degree. However, today most jurisdictions view accessory after the fact as a separate and less serious offense than the crime committed by the principal in the first degree.
Accomplice sentencing is based on when the accomplice decided to join in on the crime. If the accomplice was part of the crime from the beginning or if the accomplice joins the criminals while the crime is still in progress, than the accomplice is subject to the same punishment as the perpetrators, the persons who actually commit the crime.
However, the accomplice aids the criminals after the crime is over, such as concealing evidence or the criminals themselves, than the accomplice cannot be charged with a higher sentence than the actual perpetrators.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that accomplices who are part of the original crime can be sentenced to death if a murder occurs during the original crime.
There are a number of defenses to accomplice liability. The defenses can include:
If you believe you may fall under one of the categories of accomplices or if you have been accused of such a crime, it would be helpful to consult an attorney. An attorney would be able to help you gather the evidence and put a case together.
Last Modified: 12-26-2016 11:34 PM PSTLaw Library Disclaimer
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