Since you are not exempt from the law simply by being ignorant of the law, it is a good idea to understand the finer points of certain statutes. Some laws render you liable, even when you don’t directly commit a crime. For instance, though aiding and abetting are prohibited, it might not be immediately apparent that you’re committing these acts when they’re happening. Thus, we should review the various nuances of these proscribed activities, so you don’t end up in a cell for unintentionally breaking the law.
To begin with, the history of these legal proscriptions goes back a couple hundred years to 1790, when a law was introduced prohibiting the assistance, counsel or advisory of a murder or robbery. Years later, in 1870, officials revised the statute and included all felonies. But then in 1909 these aforementioned laws were taken off the books and replaced with an updated statute containing the following provision: “Whoever aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures the commission of an offense is a principal.”
Over the years, that statute has been changed into its current form. Title 18 of the US Code currently contains two clauses under section two:
- “Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.”
- “Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.”
In the writing of Title 18 Section 2, officials utilized specific language to make it absolutely clear that anyone convicted of willfully aiding a criminal will be treated as a principal party in the matter, meaning they will be treated as though they actually committed the crime in question.
To be clear, the terms “aiding and abetting” refer to assistance or encouragement intentionally given to someone to help execute or complete a crime. Thus, you don’t have to actually be at the scene of the crime in order to be charged on these counts. For a prosecutor to successfully convict you, they must be able to prove that you knew about the crime and intentionally provided assistance for its execution; that you took some action (even if small) for the furtherance of the crime; and that there was another party responsible for the crime in question.
In short, if it can be shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you knew about the crime and assisted the main perpetrator in any way, you could be convicted under Title 18, or the relevant state statute.
Aiding and abetting are not precisely the same crime – even though they are often employed as a pair – and the way these terms are treated under the law varies from state to state. There are some commonalities, nonetheless.
Someone might think they’re in the clear because they merely voiced their support of a crime, effectively pushing another person to commit said crime. This is abetting and is definitely a punishable act. Aiding, by contrast, refers to actual assistance given to the central party and is also punishable.
You might also hear the word accessory thrown around. This can refer to both aiding and abetting. Often, a person will be charged with either accessory before the fact, or accessory after the fact. A person charged with accessory after the fact, for instance, may have simply housed their loved one, knowing full well that that person had committed a crime. Again, accessory charges, like aiding and abetting, are subject to state-by-state differences.
Generally speaking, there are a few activities you can avoid altogether, if you want to dodge aiding and abetting charges. If you know your loved one is a fugitive, then it’s not a good idea to give him or her a place to “lay low for a while,” as you could be treated as an accessory after the fact. The same goes for giving your loved one money or information, or hiding property, such as weapons. Similarly, if you withhold information from the police you could be charged with aiding and abetting. Pretty much any form of support you offer can fall under the heading of aiding and abetting, or accessory.
This may seem a bit harsh. Surely, you want to help keep your loved one safe. To that end, you can help your family member or friend by finding a skilled defense attorney, to help mitigate the charges against them.