Aiding and abetting is a criminal act that occurs when an individual intentionally aids or assists another person or group of persons in the commission of a criminal act. In short, an individual can be convicted of aiding and abetting, even if they did not commit the crime themselves. Further, the individual will likely face the same or similar criminal punishments as the individual or group that actually committed the crime.

For example, if a person helps another individual to break into a house or building, and the individual that broke in causes damages or steals items from inside the property, both parties may be criminally charged for that criminal act. The person that actually committed the crime would likely be charged with some form of a theft crime, whereas the person that assisted them in getting inside the property would be charged with aiding and abetting. The crime of aiding and abetting thus allows the prosecution to continue the prosecution of an individual that did not fully commit the crime, but was a key component in the crime being committed.

In order to prosecute an individual with the crime of aiding and abetting, the prosecution has the burden of proving all of the required elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the specific elements of aiding and abetting may vary slightly from state to state, generally the prosecution must prove that:

  1. There was a crime that was committed by a person or group of persons;
  2. The person accused of aiding and abetting must have shared the criminal intent of the person or group of persons that committed the crime;
  3. The person accused of aiding and abetting must have participated willingly in the criminal act; and
  4. The person, as demonstrated by their actions, was a component in the commission of the crime.

As can be seen from the elements above, there are numerous reasons in which the prosecution may not be able to prove that the defendant committed the criminal act of aiding and abetting beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, if an individual simply told another individual that they were going to commit a crime, and then committed the crime, the individual that did not participate in the criminal act would not likely be charged with aiding and abetting.

What Are Some Defenses to Aiding and Abetting?

As noted above, the prosecution has the burden of proving each and every element of the crime of aiding and abetting beyond a reasonable doubt. In the United States, individuals are presumed to be innocent when they are arrested and charged with a crime. Thus, before a defendant may be found guilty of a criminal act, the prosecution must prove with certainty that the defendant has committed each element required of the criminal act. This means that by a demonstration of evidence, the prosecution must fully convince a judge and/or jury that the defendant has committed the crime.

Therefore, in criminal cases, the criminal defendant is not responsible for showing that they are innocent, but rather the state must prove their case. Many criminal cases and charges are dropped by the simple fact that the prosecution cannot meet its burden in showing that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the best legal defense to any criminal charge is simply that the defendant did not commit the crime in question.

Depending on the facts and circumstances of the criminal case, there may be additional legal defenses available for a person who is being charged with aiding and abetting. These legal defenses must be asserted by the defense, and may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Withdrawal: An individual charged with aiding and abetting may avoid criminal charges by withdrawing their intent to assist or aid in the crime. As noted above, criminal intent is one of the elements of the crime of aiding and abetting that must be proven by the prosecution. In order to properly withdraw, the individual must communicate this clearly to the other person(s) involved in the crime. Additionally, the individual must also do whatever they can reasonably do to prevent the crime from occurring, such as reporting the crime to the authorities;
  • Provide Evidence They Did Not Assist: If the person accused of aiding and abetting did not actually assist, encourage, or aid another person(s) in the commission of the crime, then they cannot be charged criminally. Therefore, if the person was simply a bystander to the crime, or merely present at the crime scene, that would likely not be enough to demonstrate that they acted with criminal intent;
  • Duress: One of the elements of the crime of aiding and abetting is that the individual acted with criminal intent and participated willingly. Thus, if an individual is charged with aiding and abetting, but demonstrates that the other criminal actors forced them to aid in the commission of the crime, the charges against them may be dropped. For example. If an individual is a getaway driver, but was forced at gunpoint to do so, they will not face criminal charges and can assert the legal defense of duress; and/or
  • Accessory After the Fact: Some state laws allow a reduction in criminal penalties if the person that assisted in the crime did not assist until after the crime took place. In such cases, the court might deem the person to have acted as an accessory rather than aiding and abetting. Although an accessory to a crime may face less harsh penalties, they will still face criminal penalties, unless they can also assert another legal defense to avoid liability altogether.

Once again, the state has the burden of proving that the individual charged with aiding and abetting committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, legal defenses must be asserted by the criminal defendant in order for them to be addressed in the criminal process. Therefore, it is important to know each and every legal defense that your state allows if you have been charged with aiding and abetting.

What Else Should I Know About the Crime of Aiding and Abetting?

In addition to facing similar penalties to that of the other criminal actor(s) that actually committed the crime, those accused of aiding and abetting may sometimes face greater legal penalties than those that committed the crime. For example, in a case where a getaway driver hits a pedestrian, they would likely face criminal charges of manslaughter along with the crime that was previously committed.

Additionally, if the crime was a store robbery, and the criminal actor that was robbing the store was shot at and returned fire, that actor may be able to assert the legal defense of self-defense, but the individual that aided and abetted in the crime would likely face charges for attempted murder. Although these situations are rare, there are cases in which the individual accused of aiding and abetting in a crime faces harsher penalties.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Aiding and Abetting Laws?

As can be seen, the criminal act of aiding and abetting can carry severe criminal penalties. Therefore, if you are facing criminal charges regarding aiding and abetting, it is important to immediately consult with an experienced criminal lawyer in your area.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in asserting any possible legal defense, as well as represent you in court, as necessary.