The charge of aiding and abetting can be brought against anyone who directly helps someone else in the commission of a crime, even if they do not participate in the actual crime itself. Specifically, a person is guilty of aiding and abetting if he willfully "aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures" the commission of a crime.
Unlike the crime of accessory, in which someone aids another person who commits a criminal act, the crime of aiding abetting also includes anyone who willfully gets someone else to commit a crime on their behalf.
Whereas an accessory to a crime usually faces lesser punishment than the person who actually committed the crime, someone charged with aiding and abetting is punished as a principal in the crime, just as if they performed it. If anyone "puts into motion" the plan to commit a crime, they can be charged with that crime even if they intentionally refrained from participating in the actual criminal act itself.
Elements of Aiding and Abetting
According to the Justice Department, there are four major elements in the crimes of aiding and abetting:
- That the accused had specific intent to help in the commission of a crime by another;
- That the accused had the requisite intent of the underlying substantive offense;
- That the accused assisted or participated in the commission of the underlying substantive offense; and
- That someone committed the underlying offense.
An Example of Aiding and Abetting
Jack worked as a kitchen helper at a popular seafood restaurant. His brother-in-law Thomas told him that he wanted to and that all Jack would have to do is leave the back door of the restaurant unlocked the following night and he would give him 30 percent of the stolen money.
Jack had always complained to Thomas that the restaurant's manager was a lazy drunk. He would especially complain on the nights that he was late leaving work because the manager was too busy drinking at the bar and wouldn't get up and unlock the back door so that Jack could do his trash run and go home.
Jack told Thomas that there were times that he would wait for up to 45 minutes for the manager to unlock the back door, but that lately things were better because he started handing Jack the restaurant keys so that he could let himself in and out.
Once Jack was finished with the trash, he and the other employees would finally get to leave work, but as was policy, they all had to leave together out the front door. The manager and bartender would then hang out almost every night for at least another hour while enjoying a few more rounds of drinks.
Angry with his boss for wasting his time and jealous that he and the bartender sat around drinking free drinks, Jack agreed to Thomas' request to "forget" to relock the back door the next night.
The next night after taking out the trash, Jack purposely left the back door unlocked as was planned. Thomas then slipped through the unlocked door and into the restaurant, put a gun to the surprised manager's head and forced him to unlock the safe. What Thomas did not know was that there was a silent alarm under the bar that the bartender was able to activate.
When Thomas heard police sirens approaching, he grabbed as much of the money from the safe as he could and ran out the back door. He managed to slip by the police and make it to his ex-girlfriend's apartment, whose name was Janet. After hearing about his close call with the police and his generous offer to compensate her by giving her a percentage of the money he got from robbing the restaurant, she agreed to let him hide from the police at her place for awhile.
Thomas was later arrested for robbing the restaurant and in a plea deal, he provided the police with the details of his crime, including Jack's and Janet's names.
Because Jack was aware that Thomas intended to rob the restaurant by gaining access through the door that Jack purposely left unlocked, he was charged with aiding and abetting, even though he was not present when the robbery took place.
Janet was charged with aiding and abetting because she had knowledge of the crime and helped Thomas avoid arrest by letting him hide at her apartment. She also profited financially from the crime. It does not matter that her involvement came after (and not before) the crime was committed.