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What Is Aiding and Abetting?

Legal AssistantCriminal Law

Tom and Dick are friends. Tom works in a bank. Dick has been in and out of prison for the last couple of years. Dick wants to make some quick bucks and asks Tom to draw him a bank floor plan. Tom knows that Dick’s intention is to rob the bank but gets him the blueprint anyway.

One week later, Dick breaks into the bank and empties the safe. He takes the money to Harry’s house for safekeeping.

Both Tom and Harry are just as culpable as Dick and can be charged with aiding and abetting. What does aiding and abetting a crime mean? How is it different from an accessory charge? Here’s everything you need to know.

Aid and Abet Meaning

The terms “aiding” and “abetting” are often used interchangeably in everyday speech. While the two legal concepts are somewhat similar, they don’t mean the same thing.

Aiding a crime means that you’re helping someone else commit a criminal act. You’re actively involved in its execution.

On the other hand, abetting a crime means that you’re inciting or encouraging someone to commit a criminal act. You don’t necessarily have to be involved in its execution.

Aiding and abetting are different types of accomplice liability. If you’re found guilty, you will face the same penalty as the underlying crime.

Keep in mind that while the crime itself is usually referred to as “aiding and abetting,” either of the two offenses applies. An individual is liable if they “aid” in a crime or “abet” in it.

What Does “Aiding” a Crime Mean

If you intentionally help someone else commit a crime, then you’re “aiding” them. For you to be culpable, the crime in question actually needs to be committed, and your assistance needs to be a critical part of the commission of the offense.

Two elements are involved for someone to be charged with aiding a crime:

  1. You must be aware that the individual you’re helping is going to commit a crime, and
  2. You must act voluntarily to help them commit it.

You don’t physically have to be present at the time the crime is committed. You would still be liable even if you were not there. In our earlier example, Tom would still be liable for giving Dick the floor plan even if he was not physically there at the time the robbery plan was executed.

What Does “Abetting” a Crime Mean

Abetting a crime means inciting, encouraging, or supporting its commission. Support could be in the form of active instigation or passive incitement. If you are or become aware of an offense or are present at the time the crime is committed and don’t do anything to alert the authorities, you could be charged with abetting.

Abetting comes in several forms, including:

  • Telling someone to commit a crime
  • Hiring someone to commit a crime
  • Not stopping someone from committing a crime if you have a legal responsibility to do so

Some states have different names for the charge, such as:

  • Advice
  • Counsel
  • Encourage
  • Induce

It’s worth noting that for an abetting charge to stick, the “shared intent” to commit an offense with the perpetrators needs to be clear. In our earlier example, suppose Harry was aware of Dick’s plans to Rob the bank before the crime was actually committed. By not doing anything to stop Dick or even alert the authorities in advance, Harry can be charged with abetting.

What Is an Accessory to a Crime? Accessory vs Aiding and Abetting

Here’s what we know so far. Aiding is “helping” someone commit a crime. Abetting is actively or passively “supporting” or “encouraging” someone to commit a crime.

The person who commits the crime in question is referred to as the principal. An accessory is someone who aids or abets the principal in the commission of a crime – in other words, an accomplice.

Depending on state law, the terms “before the fact” and “after the fact” can be used to establish the point at which assistance was provided. If you aided and abetted the principal before the crime was committed, you would be an accessory before the fact. On the other hand, if you aided and abetted the principal after the commission of the crime, you would be an accessory after the fact.

In our earlier example, Harry became an accomplice to the crime the moment he allowed Dick to keep the stolen cash in his house. He would be considered an accessory after the fact, even if he did not know of Dick’s intention to rob the bank.

Aiding and Abetting Examples

Below are a few scenarios that would fall in the realm of an aiding-and-abetting crime:

  • Acting as the “getaway driver” during the commission of a crime
  • Acting as the “lookout” during the commission of a crime
  • Actively or passively helping the principal commit the crime
  • Actively or passively inciting someone to commit a crime, whether or not you’re directly involved in its execution
  • Providing information or equipment to a third party knowing that it will be used to commit a crime

The case of the Alabama corrections officer and inmate who were on the run is another such instance of an aiding and abetting crime. Vicky White – who was a corrections officer before her death-by-suicide – aided and abetted Casey White – an inmate who had been serving a 75-year sentence at the Lauderdale County jail – escape from prison custody.

What Is the Punishment for Aiding and Abetting

According to the aiding and abetting sentencing guidelines in most states, an individual convicted of these charges will face the same penalties as the principal perpetrator. Some states are more lenient when it comes to misdemeanor crimes, resulting in a year or so behind bars or getting fined a few thousand dollars. On the other hand, aiding and abetting a felony crime carries far more severe consequences.

If you’re facing an aiding and abetting charge, knowing what to say and do at the early stages could be the difference between getting convicted and acquitted. Chat online with a Laws101 attorney right now to explore your options.