Assisting a person to commit or even cover up an offense is considered as aiding and abetting, which is punished the same way as the individual who committed the offense. What is worse is that you could be charged as an aider and abettor even if the perpetrator is acquitted or found innocent. Penal Code 31 disregards the difference between an accomplice and the perpetrator when an offense is involved, therefore helping in commission of an offense does not earn you a lighter punishment. This makes it essential to have legal representation if these allegations are leveled against you. While the prospect of these charges can be devastating, Los Angeles Criminal Attorney is ready to help you fight these charges. 

What is Aiding and Abetting?

According to Penal Code Section 31 PC, all the people involved in committing an offense, whether a misdemeanor or felony, and whether the crime is committed directly, they commit an act that constitutes the crime. Therefore, aiders and abettors in the commission of the crime are considered principals in the offense so committed. 

Aiding and abetting can be defined as offering help in the commission of an offense. It can be saying or doing something that furthers the criminal activity. Aiding and abetting prosecution fall under accomplice liability theory, which is the act of being criminally complicit.

Definition of Terms

Aider and abettor is a term commonly used to point down to principals excluding the perpetrator. It does not matter whether these principals were present when the offense was committed or not.

Accessory before the fact refers to a principal who assists by encouraging or in planning the violation of the law before the offense is committed. For instance, an individual who engages in the planning and preparation of a robbery in a bank is an accessory.

Accessory after the fact, on the other hand, refers to those principals without any responsibility in the violation of the law but knowingly helps the perpetrator to avoid prosecution and arrest. For instance, assisting the perpetrators of rape in leaving the State of California.

Accomplice is an individual who actively engages in the commission of the offense, even when they do not take any responsibility at the time of committing the crime — for instance, serving as a getaway motorist or lookout to a robbery.

Elements of Crime

The prosecution team will charge a person as an aider and abettor when they:

  • Are aware of the perpetrator's unlawful plan,
  • Deliberately facilitate or encourage the plan, and
  • Promote, aid, or initiate the offense.

Although it looks like you must promote or encourage the violation of the law before, that is not always the situation. Aiding and abetting could be as committed promptly as the offense. If you know a specific law is being violated and you promote, facilitate, or encourage the commission of the offense, the court concludes that you violated California Penal Code 31 PC.

When it comes to facilitating, promoting, or encouraging the crime, there isn't a requirement that a defendant's behavior is a significant element in the crime. Responsibility attaches to any person concerned, however small.

Moreover, you can be charged with violating Penal Code Section 31 PC even when you're lawfully unable to commit the offense yourself.

When does the Prosecution Team Charge You as an Offense Accomplice?

In reference to the allegations, the prosecution team does not charge an accomplice with aiding and abetting. Instead, you will be charged with the underlying offense. When deciding whether you are an accomplice, the following factors are put into consideration:

  • Companionship
  • Conduct after or before the crime
  • Presence at the crime scene

It's worth remembering that the above factors are a few factors used to decide whether you are an accomplice. However, they aren't conclusive.

Being at the Scene of the Offense Isn't Necessarily Needed for Accomplice Liability

There is no condition that you must be at the scene of the crime to be charged as an aider and abettor. Additionally, it is a must that you logistically or physically help in committing the offense. Encouraging, promoting, or instigating the offense is enough. Under Penal Code Section 31, assisting (whether indirectly or directly) the offender by behavior or encouraging them by gestures or words is sufficient.

Knowledge Alone Is Not Enough to be Found Guilty of Accomplice Liability

Knowing that a crime is being or will be committed and not stopping it, is not sufficient to constitute a conviction. Nonetheless, if you have a lawful responsibility to act reasonably to stop the offense but fail to act, you might be charged with accomplice liability.

The lawful duty applies to a certain category of persons under specific situations. For instance, doctors and teachers should report any suspected abuse or criminal activity. Also, parents should exercise reasonable control, supervision, and care over their children below 18 years of age.

Different Types of Accomplice

There are four main types of accomplices based on their level of participation as follows:

  • Principal in the first degree- This accomplice either commits an offense physically or by using a human agent or innocent instrumentality
  • Principal in the second degree- The accomplice here intentionally assists somebody else to commit an offense while in the presence of the principal in the first degree. They are also referred to as a lookout
  • Accessory before the fact
  • Accessory after the fact

What Penalties Does an Aider and Abettor in California Face?

If convicted as an aider and abettor in Los Angeles, you will be regarded as a principal to the offense. That means you will face the same consequences and penalties as if you committed the crime. However, this does not apply to murder prosecutions.

Accomplice Liability for Murder

There are cases that an accomplice could be found guilty for a greater offense associated with murder compared to the perpetrator. This happens when there are personal extenuating circumstances and defenses that apply to the perpetrator and don't apply to the aider and abettor.

For instance, two people are shooting. One person shoots and kills another person. He is considered as the perpetrator while the other defendant (who is seated in the passenger seat) is considered the aider and abettor. If the perpetrator presents evidence that he shot in self-defense, their charge could be dismissed or reduced to voluntary manslaughter. Nevertheless, the aider and abettor could face murder charges.

Natural and Probable Consequences

As an aider and abettor, you are not only equally accountable for the accused's intended crime. You're also equally liable for any offenses which are the natural and probable consequences of the original offense.

Natural and probable consequences can be defined as foreseeable consequences given the case's circumstances. Whether an additional offense is a natural and probable consequence of the original offense is a question that the judge should answer.

Legal Defenses

There are legal defenses that a qualified criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles can present on your behalf. They include the following:

You Withdrew from Participating in the Crime

Even when you have been an aider and abettor before the perpetrator commits an offense, the state of California could permit a withdrawal defense. That means notifying the perpetrators of the offense of your plan to withdraw from participation and preventing the offense from taking place.

Nonetheless, this can be hard to prove unless you have proof of repudiation like warning the potential victims or communication with the perpetrator. Some jurisdictions may need an attempt to prevent the offense from occurring by, for instance, notifying law enforcers.

Even if your behavior does not constitute withdrawal, an attempt to remove yourself from an offense before it happens can assist in mitigating the consequences you could face. Depending on the case's circumstances, the effort could result in the government using prosecutorial discretion and not charge you with an offense. This could take place where, for instance, your safety is at risk by coming forward to report a pending offense.

You Didn't Encourage, Facilitate, or Aid the Commission of the Offense

If you did not facilitate, help, or encourage a violation of law in any manner, then you aren't an aider and abettor.

Assuming you are traveling in a public vehicle when the person driving decides to rob a retail shop. You stay in the vehicle as the driver and other passengers enter the store and take money among other valuable assets from the shop.  However, you did not know of their intentions when you entered the vehicle and did not facilitate their plan. In this case, you were just at the crime scene. Consequently, you should not be held accountable for the crime.

False Accusations

Since there requires no physical evidence that you were aider and abettor in a crime, it's easy for another person to indict you of committing the crime falsely. This could be the situation when the perpetrator is diverting their criminal liability by pointing you out as the operation's mastermind.

Jealousy, revenge, and anger are some of the reasons that could prompt a person to accuse another person of an offense that they did not play any role.

Your competent lawyer knows how to investigate the case and analyze witnesses to beat your charges and make sure that the truth comes to light.

You had no Duty to Act

As discussed earlier, even if an individual is aware that an offense will be committed and fail to do anything to stop it from taking place, they could be found guilty under California Penal Code Section 31 if they have a lawful duty to act. However, since lawful duties are far between and few (they should be deliberated upon a person by law) they won't come into play often. 

Consequently, knowledge of an offense isn't adequate to convict a person.

Duress Defense

A defendant can't be convicted as an aider and abettor in case they were forced against their will to assist another person to commit an offense under immediate threat of death or severe bodily hurt to themselves or somebody else.

Duress is a lawful feasible defense in trials for several offenses. If your attorney can prove that you were involved in the offense commission due to being compelled by somebody else, you could be cleared of the charges.

It is worth noting that a defendant can't use coercion as a defense if they were threatened by property damage, damage to their reputation, or minor injury. Moreover, duress cannot be used as a defense to murder. This is because murder requires a deliberate intention to kill a person or the fact of malice.

It bears repeating that for duress to be used as a legal defense, the threat made against a defendant should be credible, immediate, and involve death or severe injury.

Accessory After the Fact Defense

An accessory after the fact does not face the same penalties as the perpetrator to an offense. If you only participate after the violation of the law, your lawyer could argue that you have a defense under the accomplice liability theory. That means you can't be found guilty the same way as the principal.

Instead, you will face obstruction of justice charges under California Penal Code 32. Even though you will face punishment if charged as an accessory after the fact, the consequences will be less severe compared to when charged as an aider and abettor.

If you act as an accessory after the fact (California Penal Code Section 32), you will be charged with a wobbler. You will be required to pay up to $5,000 in fines and

  • A maximum of a one-year sentence in a county jail for a California misdemeanor, or
  • Sixteen months or two (2) or three (3) years in jail if charged with a felony.

If the prosecution team can prove beyond any doubt that you conspired to commit the offense and later functioned as an accessory after the fact (in a different act), you could be charged with both crimes.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Assist You

When accused of being an accomplice during or before an offense or an accessory after the fact, one of the wisest things you need to do is hiring a skilled attorney.  This is because you will need a person who will defend you aggressively in court or even prevent an arrest.

Your attorney will investigate your charges by getting as much proof as possible and then analyzing every piece of evidence carefully. This could give the lawyer leverage to bring a PC 995 Motion to Dismiss. The lawyer may be in a position to claim that your charges need to be dismissed on the grounds of a procedural issue, lack of evidence, or any other legal issue.

If the case proceeds, your attorney will take numerous pre-trial steps to assist the case. It may entail several motions like a motion to rule proof inadmissible in a court of law. If the attorney thinks that the prosecution team will try using evidence that was obtained unlawfully, the legal expert will make sure it is left out at trial. 

If the case does not resolve before the trial, either via a plea bargain or dismissal, your attorney should prepare a defense on your behalf. Remember, it's the prosecutor's responsibility to prove that you committed the crime beyond any reasonable doubt. As a result, your attorney should do their best to create a doubt, which the judge should acquit you.

When Does Aiding and Abetting Become Conspiracy?

If your level of involvement as an accomplice is great enough, you could be charged with conspiracy. Normally, the state of California will charge you with conspiracy if you have been substantially and directly involved in either concealing or planning an offense.

The offense doesn't actually need to be started or even committed. After you agree to commit the offense and both you and the perpetrator have the intent for the offense to be committed, then conspiracy has taken place.

For instance, you tell a friend that your neighbor always leaves the door to garage with valuable tools open. If your friend steals the tools, you could be charged as an accessory to the crime. However, if you befriend your neighbor, secretly take the garage's key from your neighbor's kitchen counter, and then give the keys to a friend alongside information of when your neighbor is away, that amounts to conspiracy.

The kind of conspiracy you're charged with determines your penalties. Conspiracies can be either felonies or wobbler. More often than not, the penalties and consequences you receive for conspiracy will be founded on the consequences imposed in relation to the underlying offense.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

You are likely to face penalties that apply to the underlying offense if you are charged with aiding and abetting. That means, if the crime is a felony, you will be charged with a felony that carries prison time, fines, and a criminal record. These penalties will affect different aspects of your life for many years to come. Hiring an experienced attorney is one of the most brilliant things you can do to protect your career, future, and finances. Contact Los Angeles Criminal Attorney at 424-333-0943 today. We will analyze your case and provide the best possible defense strategies.