The Legal Dictionary describes aiding and abetting as: “a person’s action to help, support or approve of someone else’s illegal act. Aiding and abetting is a crime in itself, held against those who would somehow assist a criminal – short of physically contributing to the illegal act. In many jurisdictions, aiding and abetting is the same as an ‘accessory’ to the crime.”
There is a long history of aiding and abetting in the United States. The first law dealing with aiding and abetting was passed in 1790. The hope was that the new aiding and abetting law would discourage people from providing any assistance in murder, piracy and robbery cases.
Lawmakers tweaked the aiding and abetting law in 1870. The biggest change they made had a huge impact on the U.S. legal system. The new change made it illegal for anyone to aid or abet in the commission of any type of felony.
In California, the issue of aiding and abetting is addressed in Penal Code 31 PC. The current version of the law went into effect on January 1, 2008. It clearly states that:
“All persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether it be felony or misdemeanor, and whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense or aid and abet in its commission, or, not being present, have advised and encouraged its commission, and all persons counseling, advising or encouraging children under the age of fourteen years, or persons who are mentally incapacitated, to commit any crime, or who, by fraud, contrivance, or force, occasion the drunkenness of another for the purpose of causing him to commit any crime, or who, by threats, menaces, command or coercion, compel another to commit any crime, are principals in any crime so committed.”
One of the interesting things about aiding and abetting in California is that if the prosecutor decides to pursue charges, the formal charge will not saying aiding and abetting. The charge in your file will actually be for the crime you allegedly aided and abetted. This is significant since it’s that crime that determines who severely you’ll be punished if you’re convicted.
Another strange thing about aiding and abetting in California is that just because you weren’t at the actual crime scene when things went down, it doesn’t mean you won’t be charged. The law is written in such a way that even if you were in a different state at the time of the crime if you instigated or encouraged the actions that resulted in the crime, you’re guilty of aiding and abetting.
There is a great deal of gray area surrounding aiding and abetting cases, so if you even suspect you might be accused of aiding and abetting, you should immediately seek out the services of a good criminal defense attorney.