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The term accomplice generally means someone who encourages or aids someone else to commit a crime. This is different than solicitation, which occurs when someone encourages someone else to commit a crime, but that person declines. There are generally four different types of criminal charges that can be brought against an accomplice. These are explained in detail further down this page. Criminal charges against an accomplice include:
These four types of charges refer to your level of involvement in the crime you are and when you got involved.
"Principal" means you are centrally involved in the crime. Being called an "accessory" means you were part of the crime but are not one of the main people responsible.
The person who personally committed the crime is called a "principal in the first degree."
For example: Jon and Robb plan to shoot Jamie. Jon is the one who actually pulls the trigger, so Jon is the principal in the first degree. Every crime must have at least one first degree principal.
Some crimes can have multiple principals in the first degree. If Jon and Robb both shot Jamie, they could both be first degree principals in the crime.
The principal in the second degree is present while the crime happens. They need to "aid and abet" (a legal term for planning or helping) the crime, but they do not personally perform any illegal actions.
For example: Jon and Robb decide to murder Jamie. Robb is present when Jon does the shooting, but Robb just stands there. He does not do anything illegal, such as use a weapon or try to move or hide the body. Now Robb is a second-degree principal because he was there while the crime happened.
You can still be charged for a crime even if you are not physically at the scene of the crime. The terms that apply are:
For example: Robb is the lookout for the crime but does not watch the crime occur. Robb would still be considered a principal in the second degree because he was "present constructively."
Accessory before the fact charges are the most common. An accessory before the fact is like a principal in the second degree because they:
Often this is the person who plans the crime. Because they are just the brains of the crime but do not act on anything, they can be considered an accessory before the fact.
For example: Jon draws up plans to steal money from a bank. The plan includes the security guard's shift hours, the vault combination, and the amount of time it will take for the police to show up. Next, Jon gives these plans to Robb, and Robb thinks that Jon wrote a pretty good plan. Now Robb gathers his friends and steals the money. Here, Jon could be considered an accessory before the fact.
Finally, a person could be charged with being an accessory after the fact. This charge is for a person who:
The most common example is when a person hides another person from the police
For example: Robb and Jon steal jewelry from a jewelry store. After they run out of the store, they drive straight to Robb's mother's house. Robb's mother sees all the stolen jewelry, and Robb admits they are on the run from the law. He begs his mother to hide them until the police stop looking for them. Robb's mother agrees to hide them in the basement. Then she hides Robb's car.
In this example, Robb's mother could be charged with being an accessory after the fact.
You can be charged for simply giving someone information and they go on to commit a crime with that information. Family members can be punished for trying to hide their loved ones from the police. These charges can feel confusing and unfair.
There are many grey areas when police and prosecutors may consider you an accessory to a crime, so you need an attorney to review the facts. They can help show your side of the story and accurately explain your role in the crime to a judge.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified criminal defense lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local criminal defense attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.