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What Does it Mean to Be an Accessory to a Crime?

In criminal law, it’s possible to be criminally prosecuted if you somehow aided or contributed to the commission of a crime, even if you were not there when it took place.

If you came up with the whole idea for a burglary, however, you were an “advisor,” you did not commit the crime, you could still be prosecuted in criminal court for your role in the crime. Essentially, if you knowingly help someone else commit a crime, you can face criminal charges.

Can I Be Found Guilty?

You may have heard that an accessory cannot be found guilty and convicted unless the actual perpetrator was convicted in a court of law, however, that is not necessarily the case.

In many jurisdictions, an accessory can be found guilty, even if the principal actor was not caught, or even convicted. Let’s say that “John” introduced “Janet,” a wealthy housewife to “Bob,” a hitman. John’s goal was to help Janet hire Bob to kill her husband so she could collect on his life insurance policy.

Even though Bob fled to Mexico after the murder and was never caught, John, like Janet, can still be arrested and charged for his role in the murder. In order for the state to convict John, it would have to prove to the court that John somehow initiated, furthered, or hid the murder.

In order to be an accessory, the individual must have knowingly and intentionally promoted the crime. In other words, their actions must have been deliberate. They must have encouraged, promoted, or furthered the crime intentionally – not accidentally.

Ways that an accessory may withdraw from a crime and reduce, if not eliminate culpability (blame):

  • Contact the police
  • Try to stop the crime
  • Refuse to take part in the crime
  • Inform the other perpetrators that they want to back out

If you’re an “accessory before the fact,” it means you were behind the scenes, either ordering the crime, or helping others commit it. In contrast, an “accessory after the fact” is someone who knew about a crime and helped conceal it – this is often called “obstructing justice.”

Are you in trouble with the law because the state claims you were an accessory before or after the fact? If so, contact our firm to speak with a Phoenix criminal defense attorney for a free consultation!