An accessory to a crime is a person that helps to enable a crime but does not commit the crime themselves. There is a legal distinction for “mens rea” or “guilty mind,” meaning that the person must be aware that their actions will help in the commission of a crime. Therefore, one cannot be an unknowing accessory to a crime. An accessory to a crime generally provides a criminal with the means or opportunity to commit a crime.
What are terms related to accessory?
Principal – the principal is the individual that actually commits the crime. The accessory can be charged as severely as the principal depending on the jurisdiction.
Conspiracy – an accessory that provides assistance prior to the commission of a crime by the principal will usually be considered in conspiracy to commit a crime with the principal. One that incites principals to commit crimes is also an accessory in conspiracy with another. The accessory is an active participant in a conspiracy rather than having mere knowledge of it.
Does an accessory have to be a part of the crime?
An accessory merely enables the commission of a crime, which means that they need not participate in the actually commission of a crime. For example, an accessory to burglary can provide the actual burglar with access codes or keys to enter the property. The accessory does not steal any items but has served as an accessory to another in the commission of a crime. Some laws may even label an individual an accessory to a crime if they have reasonable suspicion that their aid will be sued to commit a crime but choose to proceed with their actions anyway. This is called criminal facilitation.
What is the typical penalty for accessory to a crime?
Due to the distinction for a “guilty mind” and the establishment that the accessory had full knowledge of the crime, the accessory is generally punished with the same severity as the person that committed the crime. This of course, varies by jurisdiction. Penalties for participating as an accessory will however be somewhat severe as the accessory to a crime had the potential to stop the crime, either through ending cooperation or informing the authorities. Accessory punishments may vary depending on the nature of the crime and the level of participation on their part.
What are distinctions to accessory charges?
An individual can be charged as an accessory “before” or “after the fact.” Accessory before the fact is assistance given to a criminal before the crime is committed, similar to the previous example. Accessory after the fact generally involves helping a criminal conceal a crime or intentionally failing to report the crime to the authorities.
Most laws prevent an individual from being charged as an accessory to the crime until the principal that committed the crime is convicted.
What is the contemporary American legal definition of accessory?
The US federal criminal code defines accessory charges with the terms “aiding and abetting.” This law specifically states that any individual that “aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures” for the commission of a crime will receive the same punishment as the principal. The elements of aiding and abetting include mens rea, a guilty principal and evidence that the individual acted as an accessory.