If you encouraged or helped someone to commit a crime, you may be accused of aiding and abetting, sometimes called being a “criminal accomplice,” under California Penal Code section 31 (PC). On the other hand, helping someone avoid the police after they committed a crime means you may be charged with being an accessory after the fact under Penal Code section 32 (PC). Under these laws, you can be arrested and charged, even if you had nothing to do with the commission of the crime itself. Contact a lawyer immediately to begin building your defense if you have been accused of either of these crimes.
What’s the Difference Between Aiding, Abetting, and Being an Accessory?
Aiding and abetting are often used interchangeably, and they are both covered by the same statute, but though they are similar, they are distinct. Aiding, as you may guess, involves helping someone with a criminal act. On the other hand, abetting means encouraging or inciting someone to break the law.
Being an accessory after the fact is similar to aiding and abetting, but it involves helping someone who has already done a criminal act to hide their activities or avoid capture by the police.
Examples of being an accessory include:
- Lying to the police to provide someone with an alibi
- Helping someone destroy evidence
- Helping someone hide from the police when they are supposed to appear in court to face criminal charges
One key difference between these two charges is that you can only be charged with being an accessory to felony-level crimes. In contrast, aiding and abetting is applicable if you helped or encouraged someone to commit any crime, whether it was a felony or misdemeanor.
Your attorney can help provide more information if you have any other questions about the difference between aiding, abetting, and being an accessory under California criminal law.
What are the Penalties for These Charges?
Under 31 (PC), aiding and abetting someone to do something illegal is not a charge in itself, but a law dictating that someone who participated in or encouraged someone else to do a criminal act will face the same criminal penalties as the person who actually committed the crime. So, for example, if you aided someone in murdering another person, you would face murder charges, but if you encouraged someone to steal some alcohol, you would probably only face petty theft charges.
Charges for being an accessory after the fact may be a misdemeanor or felony under 32 (PC). As a misdemeanor, you can face up to $5000 in fines and up to one year in the county jail. As a felony, it is punishable by up to 3 years in prison. This crime is less serious than aiding and abetting because an accessory to a crime merely helps a criminal after the primary crime has been committed.
Elements of Aiding and Abetting in California
Someone who has aided a criminal must have assisted with the crime in some manner, even if their role was somewhat insignificant. This assistance can involve providing advice, planning, offering financial aid, helping the criminals escape the police, or similar actions. Unlike a conspiracy charge, this law does not require you to have prior knowledge about the crime before becoming involved —you just need to have furthered the plot.
Simply knowing about a crime or being at the scene of a criminal act is not enough to violate the law. If you tried to withdraw from the plan without participating, you are not guilty. Providing aid after a perpetrator has completed a crime is a violation of 32 (PC), typically a less serious charge.
The criminal form of abetting crimes is slightly different, as simply telling someone “you should rob a bank” isn’t enough to result in a conviction. After all, the other individual has free will and should be able to make up their own mind about whether or not to follow your suggestion. To prove an abetting allegation, the prosecution must show that you counseled or encouraged someone under 14 or mentally incapacitated to commit a crime, or that you used fraud, force, threats, trickery, or alcohol to convince someone to break the law.
Defenses to Aiding and Abetting in California
Attorneys may use many different defenses to fight charges related to aiding and abetting. Your specific defense should be based on the individual details of your case. In many cases involving aiding allegations, your criminal defense attorney can show that you did not realize the persons engaged in the crime were planning something illegal. If you did not know a crime was going to be committed, you did not aid a criminal.
In some cases, your defense lawyers can plea an aiding-related charge down to being an accessory, which could drastically reduce your sentence.
For abetting-related charges, the prosecution has to show that you either influenced someone under 14 or mentally incapacitated or that you actively coerced someone into breaking the law. This standard can be hard to meet.
Elements of Accessory Charges
To be convicted as an accessory to a crime under 32 (PC), the prosecution must be able to prove that you knowingly helped or aided a person who committed a felony to help someone evade capture or punishment. They can’t just show that you helped someone who broke the law but that you also 1) knew the individual committed a felony and 2) that your actions helped them evade justice.
Even if you only believed the person committed a misdemeanor, this is enough to serve as a legal defense. For example, if someone was accused of armed robbery, but they convinced you they were unfairly being chased by the police after shoplifting a bag of groceries, you should not be guilty even if you told the police you didn’t see the suspect.
Related Criminal Charges
Those accused of being accomplices and accessories to crimes under 31 and 32 (PC) frequently face other charges. Any role you played in committing a crime can open you up to charges. So if you were accused of aiding a drug dealer to sell drugs by moving the drugs in your vehicle, you could be charged with drug transportation on top of the sales charge you would face as an accomplice.
San Diego County courts take these charges very seriously. If you have been accused of being an accomplice or accessory in California, please call attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.