Aiding & Abetting & Accessorial Crimes
Explained by a San Diego Criminal Lawyer
Aiding & Abetting and Accessorial Crimes
What is an accomplice?
An accomplice is a person who helps another person commit a crime.
When is a person an accessory to a crime?
A person charged with aiding and abetting or accessory is usually not present when the crime itself is committed, but he or she has knowledge of the crime before or after the fact, and may assist in its commission through advice, actions, or financial support.
Under some specific circumstances, if the evidence establishes aiding and abetting of one crime, a person may also be found guilty of other crimes that occurred during the commission of the first crime.
What is Aiding and Abetting?
If the acts or conduct of an agent, employee or other associate of the person are willfully directed or authorized by the person, or if the person assists another person by willfully joining together with that person in the commission of a crime, then the law holds the person responsible for the conduct of that other person just as though the person had engaged in such conduct himself
To prove that the defendant is guilty of a crime based on aiding and abetting that crime, the People must prove that:
1. The perpetrator committed the crime;
2. The defendant knew that the perpetrator intended to commit the crime;
3. Before or during the commission of the crime, the defendant intended to aid and abet the perpetrator in committing the crime;
4. The defendant’s words or conduct did in fact aid and abet the perpetrator’s commission of the crime.
Someone aids and abets a crime if he or she knows of the perpetrator’s unlawful purpose and he or she specifically intends to, and does in fact, aid, facilitate, promote, encourage, or instigate the perpetrator’s commission of that crime.
If all of these requirements are proved, the defendant does not need to actually have been present when the crime was committed to be guilty as an aider and abettor.
If the defendant was present at the scene of the crime or failed to prevent the crime, the jury may consider that fact in determining whether the defendant was an aider and abettor. However, the fact that a person is present at the scene of a crime or fails to prevent the crime does not, by itself, make him or her an aider and abettor.
Affirmative Defense to Aiding and Abetting: You Can Withdrawal From the Crime and Avoid Prosecution
A person who aids and abets a crime is not guilty of that crime if he or she withdraws before the crime is committed. To withdraw, a person must do two things:
1. He or she must notify everyone else he or she knows is involved in the commission of the crime that he or she is no longer participating. The notification must be made early enough to prevent the commission of the crime.
2. He or she must do everything reasonably within his or her power to prevent the crime from being committed. He or she does not have to actually prevent the crime.
The People have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not withdraw.
Perpetrator versus Aider and Abettor
For purposes of culpability the law does not distinguish between perpetrators and aiders and abettors; however, the required mental states that must be proved for each are different. One who engages in conduct that is an element of the charged crime is a perpetrator, not an aider and abettor of the crime. (People v. Cook (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1364, 1371 [72 Cal.Rptr.2d 183].)
Accessory After the Fact
The prosecution must show that an aider and abettor intended to facilitate or encourage the target offense before or during its commission. If the defendant formed an intent to aid after the crime was completed, then he or she may be liable as an accessory after the fact. (People v. Cooper (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1158, 1160–1161 [282 Cal.Rptr. 450, 811 P.2d 742] [get-away driver, whose intent to aid was formed after asportation of property, was an accessory after the fact, not anaider and abettor]; People v. Rutkowsky (1975) 53 Cal.App.3d 1069, 1072–1073 [126 Cal.Rptr. 104]; People v. Rodriguez (1986) 42 Cal.3d 730, 760–761 [230 Cal.Rptr. 667, 726 P.2d 113].)
Factors Relevant to Aiding and Abetting
Factors relevant to determining whether a person is an aider and abettor include: presence at the scene of the crime, companionship, and conduct before or after the offense. (People v. Singleton (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 488, 492 [241 Cal.Rptr. 842] [citing People v. Chagolla (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 422, 429 [193 Cal.Rptr. 711]]; People v. Campbell (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 402, 409 [30 Cal.Rptr.2d 525].)
Presence Not Required to Convict for Aiding and Abetting
A person may aid and abet a crime without being physically present. (People v. Bohmer (1975) 46 Cal.App.3d 185, 199 [120 Cal.Rptr. 136]; see also People v. Sarkis (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 23, 27 [272 Cal.Rptr. 34].) Nor does a person have to physically assist in the commission of the crime; a person may be guilty of aiding and abetting if he or she intends the crime to be committed and instigates or encourages the perpetrator to commit it. (People v. Booth (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1247, 1256 [56 Cal.Rptr.2d 202].)
Principal Acquitted or Convicted of Lesser Offense
Although the jury must find that the principal committed the crime aided and abetted, the fact that a principal has been acquitted of a crime or convicted of a lesser offense in a separate proceeding does not bar conviction of an aider and abettor. (People v. Wilkins (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 1089, 1092–1094 [31 Cal.Rptr.2d 764]; People v. Summersville (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1062, 1066–1069 [40
Cal.Rptr.2d 683]; People v. Rose (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 990 [65 Cal.Rptr.2d 887].)
A single Supreme Court case has created an exception to this principle and held that non-mutual collateral estoppel bars conviction of an aider and abettor when the principal was acquitted in a separate proceeding. (People v. Taylor (1974) 12 Cal.3d 686, 696–698 [117 Cal.Rptr.70, 527 P.2d 622].) In Taylor, the defendant was the “get-away driver” in a liquor store robbery in which one of the perpetrators inadvertently killed another during a gun battle inside the store. In a separate trial, the gunman was acquitted of the murder of his co-perpetrator because the jury did not find malice. The court held that collateral estoppel barred conviction of the aiding and abetting driver, reasoning that the policy considerations favoring application of collateral estoppel were served in the case. The court specifically limited its holding to the facts, emphasizing the clear identity of issues involved and the need to prevent inconsistent verdicts. (See also People v. Howard (1988) 44 Cal.3d 375, 411–414 [243 Cal.Rptr. 842, 749 P.2d 279] [court rejected collateral estoppel argument and reiterated the limited nature of its holding in Taylor].)
Specific Intent Crimes
If a specific intent crime is aided and abetted, the aider and abettor must share the requisite specific intent with the perpetrator. “[A]n aider and abettor will ‘share’ the perpetrator’s specific intent when he or she knows the full extent of the perpetrator’s criminal purpose and gives aid or encouragement with the intent or purpose of facilitating the perpetrator’s commission of the crime.” (People v. Beeman (1984) 35 Cal.3d 547, 560 [199 Cal.Rptr. 60, 674 P.2d 1318] [citations omitted].) The perpetrator must have the requisite specific intent and the jury must be so instructed. (People v. Patterson (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 610 [257 Cal.Rptr. 407] [trial court erred in failing to instruct jury that perpetrator must have specific intent to kill]; People v. Torres (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 763, 768–769 [274 Cal.Rptr. 117].) And the jury must find that the aider and abettor shared the perpetrator’s specific intent. (People v. Acero (1984) 161 Cal.App.3d 217, 224 [208 Cal.Rptr. 565] [to convict defendant of aiding and abetting and attempted murder, jury must find that he shared perpetrator’s specific intent to kill].)
Greater Guilt Than Actual Killer
An aider and abettor may be guilty of greater homicide-related crimes than the actual killer. When a person, with the mental state necessary for an aider and abettor, helps or induces another to kill, that person’s guilt is determined by the combined acts of all the participants as well as that person’s own mens rea. If that person’s mens rea is more culpable than another’s, that person’s guilt may be greater even if the other is deemed the actual killer. (People v. McCoy (2001) 25 Cal.4th 1111, 1121 [108 Cal.Rptr.2d 188, 24 P.3d 1210].)