You may have heard of terms such as “aiding and abetting,” or “being an accessory to a crime.” Sometimes legal jargon can be quite confusing, and terms like these may be used interchangeably by those who don’t know better. But if you are facing the prospect of criminal charges, you probably want to know exactly which crimes the prosecutor may charge you with, and what they will have to prove in order to convict you.
Aiding and abetting
Missouri law makes it clear that you can face criminal charges for a crime even if you did not commit that crime, as long as your actions satisfy the definition of aiding and abetting. In other words, if you help someone to commit the crime by assisting in planning or in other ways, you can face criminal charges as if you had committed the crime yourself.
The important element that the prosecutor must prove is that you aided and abetted the criminal with the knowledge that they were committing the crime, and with the intent to further the commission of the crime. If you did not have that intent, the prosecution cannot charge you with aiding and abetting.
Accessory to a crime
You may see the term “accessory” most often in the context of someone who helps the criminal to avoid capture by police after they have committed a crime. If you help someone to dispose of evidence, provide them with cover or otherwise protect them from law enforcement and the criminal justice system, you could be an accessory after the fact.
Our constitutional rights protect us from arbitrary arrests and prison sentences. You will not face conviction for someone else’s crimes unless the prosecutor can prove every element necessary to show that you aided and abetted or were an accessory to that person’s criminal acts.