What Is Aiding and Abetting?

by Erin Wallace
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Getaway drivers and double-dog-darers beware: “Aiding and abetting” a crime is a crime in and of itself.

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What Is the Legal Definition of Aiding and Abetting?

The legal definition of aiding and abetting, according to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, is “to assist someone in committing or to encourage someone to commit a crime.” Generally speaking, the person accused of aiding and abetting can be held to the same legal standards as the person who committed the crime.

In the United States, aiding and abetting can occur with federal or state crimes. Most states allow for criminal prosecution of people who help someone else commit a crime, but legal definitions of aiding and abetting vary by state.

Someone charged as an accomplice in a crime may not be present when the crime is committed. However, they may have had knowledge of the crime either before or after it happened. Someone charged with aiding and abetting may have provided financial support, offered advice or helped with certain actions that led to the crime being committed.

Example of Aiding and Abetting

Consider this example to help you understand the concept of being an accessory to a crime: Say Bob plans to rob a clothing store, which in all states is considered a crime. Bob’s friend Carter draws up a detailed map of the store that notes where any safes are, where the most expensive merchandise is and where entrances and exits are. He does this knowing that Bob plans to rob the store. After the crime is committed, Bob’s other friend, Bonnie, stores any stolen money or merchandise at her house or at a storage facility she’s renting in her name.

In this simple example, Carter may be charged with aiding and abetting in the robbing of the bank, and Bonnie could be charged as an accessory to the crime. Carter helped by drawing a detailed map, and Bonnie helped in the aftermath by storing the money. They both can face criminal charges in this situation, as can Bob.

The short answer is yes, aiding and abetting is a crime. However, its specific definition and other legal nuances vary by state, and those definitions are different from the concept of these crimes at the federal level.

When someone is charged with a crime, there are generally two phases. The first phase is when a jury decides if there's enough evidence to convict the person or persons of a crime. The second phase is the sentencing phase, which is when consequences are administered.

According to FindLaw, at the federal level, when someone is being prosecuted for aiding and abetting, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • A crime was committed
  • The accused person intentionally “aided, counseled, commanded, induced or procured the person committing the crime”
  • The accused “acted with intent to facilitate the crime”
  • The accused “acted before the crime was completed”

The standards for prosecuting someone who’s being charged as an accessory after the crime has been committed may be different.

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What Are the Consequences?

The consequences vary by state, type of crime and what the jury and judge ultimately decide. Consequences are also different at the federal level versus the state level. In general, the punishment for aiding and abetting may be similar to, and potentially less severe than, the sentence received by the principal offender, or the person who actually committed the crime.

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The eLocal Editorial Team operates independently of eLocal USA's marketing and sales decisions.

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