There are many different charges that an accused accomplice may face for their alleged role in a crime. While these terms are colloquially interchangeable, they are not legally the same.
It is important to understand the difference between these charges, as each comes with its own potential consequences.
Aiding and abetting a criminal
Revisor of Missouri discusses accomplice liability in regard to crimes committed within the state. First, there is the charge of aiding and abetting.
If a person’s actions fall under the scope of aiding and abetting, they can face criminal charges even if they were not the person who directly committed the crime in question. In short, helping a criminal via assistance in planning or carrying out a crime can result in the accomplice being charged as if they committed the crime.
In order to get a conviction, the prosecutor needs to show that the accomplice knew they were participating in criminal activity, with the intention to further the criminal activity in question. Proving intent is always difficult, and this is no exception.
Acting as an accessory to crime
Then, there is the charge of acting as an accessory to crime. Providing a criminal with cover, protecting them from law enforcement and helping them dispose of evidence after a crime could result in a person being charged as an accessory after the fact.
Arbitrary arrests and prison sentences are something that constitutional rights should largely protect people from. This is why it is often difficult for prosecutors to get a person convicted as an accessory to crime or for aiding and abetting.