You may have heard of the terms “aiding” and “abetting” before, but what do they mean, and how do they differ from “accessory?” These are good questions to ask, especially if you face a charge pertaining to one of them.

Though the legal distinctions between the three terms vary by state, FindLaw explains that the prosecutor can bring an aiding, abetting or accessory charge against you if they believe you helped to commission a crime. You don’t’ have to be present when the crime occurred to be charged. However, for the charge to stick, you must have had knowledge of the crime before or after the fact and/or assisted in its commission through actions, advice or financial support.

Elements of aiding, abetting and accessory

Each of these crimes differs slightly in nature. For instance, aiding refers to offering differing degrees of support to the person who commissioned the crime. Abetting involves encouraging the perpetrator, while accessory entails taking action to protect the perpetrator once the crime is complete. For the jury to prove aiding, abetting or accessory, it must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the following is true:

  • A crime occurred
  • You counseled, aided, induced, commanded or procured the offender in some way
  • You acted with the specific intent to facilitate the crime
  • You acted before the crime was complete

The state may also charge you with accessory after the fact. For this charge to hold, the just must prove that you knew a crime occurred and that you helped the offender with the specific purpose of hindering or preventing the offender’s apprehension or punishment.

Defenses to Aiding, Abetting and Accessory

The strongest defense to either of these charges, aside from actual innocence, is the withdrawal defense. If your state allows this defense, you can claim that you ceased support and encouragement before the perpetrator carried out the crime. Unfortunately, this defense is difficult to prove without hard evidence.

Even if your actions do not constitute withdrawal, your attempts to disengage from the criminal activity may suffice as a defense. If the prosecution proceeds to charge you with a crime despite your withdrawal attempts, you may be subject to a lesser punishment.