Aiding and Abetting

Assisting another person in the commission of a crime makes you an accessory to the fact. This means you can face the same legal consequences as the perpetrator of the crime. Regardless of how serious your overall role was, you would still be held accountable.

A conviction on your criminal record will have long-term effects on your future. For an in-depth understanding of what this law entails, let’s take a closer look at how California defines aiding and abetting.

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Definition of Aiding and Abetting

California outlines what aiding and abetting are under Penal Code 31. This law states the crime of aiding and abetting takes place when you aid, abet, encourage, facilitate, or help another person in the commission of a crime. The crime of aiding and abetting is also referred to as accomplice liability theory. You can face this offense if you:

  • Had knowledge of the perpetrator’s unlawful plan,
    • This means you learned about their illegal plans, either before or during the alleged crime.
  • Intentionally facilitated or encouraged their plan, and
    • After learning about their illegal plans, you purposely promoted or instigated them into acting on it.
  • Supported or aided in the crime.
    • This means you had a hand in the perpetrator committing the crime, either by direct involvement or through indirect means. Simple examples are:
      • Direct involvement - physically assisting another person in stealing a car.
      • Indirect involvement - purposely “forgetting” to lock-up the store when you close so the perpetrator can commit theft after hours.

When did you acquire knowledge of the crime?

Depending on when you found out makes a difference in whether you are guilty of aiding and abetting or accessory after the fact. If you find out about the commission of a crime before OR while it happens, you can be charged under PC 31.

Examples:

Tracy finds out her boyfriend is going to rob a liquor store and agrees to be the getaway driver.

OR

Elliot witnesses someone rob a casino and as police sirens wail in the distance, the getaway driver speeds away. The perpetrator is left without a ride, so Elliot pulls up and offers to drive them away.

How did you facilitate or encourage them?

Learning about the commission of a crime, before or during, and providing encouragement comes in many forms such as:

  • Giving verbal support for the unlawful plans,
  • Using physical gestures to show your support,
  • hiring someone to aid in or commit a crime, or
  • doing nothing to prevent a crime when you are legally obligated to do so.

Facilitating a crime, without getting physically involved is still considered aiding and abetting the perpetrator in the commission of a crime.

For instance, Sally learns her boyfriend, Raymond, is going to commit grand theft auto. She encourages him and asks him to look for a sports car. At this point, having verbal support for his criminal plans is enough to face an aiding and abetting inquiry.

What type of aid did you provide?

Facilitating or promoting the perpetrator’s plan either by direct or indirect means is a serious factor in violating PC 31. If you assisted the perpetrator during the commission of the crime or if you provided help in a different manner, you could face this offense.

Using the example above, let’s say Sally decides she wants to help Raymond succeed in grand theft auto and get away with it. She offers to buy him a slim jim so he can break into parked cars more quickly. Now, not only did she encourage Raymond to commit a crime, but she also offered to provide him with the tool to make it easier. She would be considered an accomplice to the fact because of her verbal and indirect involvement.

Aiding and Abetting in PC 187, Murder

Aiding and abetting another person in the commission of a felony will carry felony punishments. When it comes to murder, the same principle applies. Helping another person commit murder or assisting them in an attempt to kill will result in you facing similar felony consequences.

Sarah, for example, learned about her boyfriend, Taylors’ plan to murder his professor. He wanted to use a gun and drive to the professor’s cabin, but didn’t have the money for a gun and had no transportation. Admitting she didn’t like his professor either, she offers to help.

Sarah provides him with the cash to purchase a gun and rents a vehicle for him to use. She had knowledge of his crime, agreed with his malicious sentiments, helped by providing transport, and gave him the money to get the firearm. A vehicle and a weapon are integral parts of his plan to commit murder. Sarah is guilty of being an accomplice to murder under PC 31, accomplice liability theory.

Closely Related Offenses

California Penal Code 32, accessory after the fact;

This crime is committed if you choose to aid, hide, or harbor someone who has committed a felony in order to prevent them from being arrested, sent to trial, convicted, or otherwise legally punished.

This is a wobbler offense, meaning you can face either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the crime committed and the extent of your aid. PC 32 has similarities to PC 31, in that you must have had knowledge of the crime and aided the person in getting away with it. The main difference between these two statutes is when you gained knowledge of the crime and how you helped the perpetrator.

The main criteria for a PC 32 offense are:

  • You knew the perpetrator had committed a felony,
  • You hid, harbored, or aided them after the commission of the crime,
  • With the intent to prevent them from being arrested, sent to trial, convicted, imprisoned, or face other legal penalties.

Accessory after the fact and PC 187, Murder

You will face a PC 32 offense if you aid another person in getting away with murder. Aiding the fugitive makes you an accessory to murder. You commit this crime by hiding or helping the perpetrator escape legal punishment, by aiding them in destroying evidence of the fact or making false statements to protect them from a lawful conviction.

Murder is a felony. Although you did not commit the crime itself, helping the criminal get away with it will likely result in felony consequences under PC 32.

California Penal Code 182, criminal conspiracy;

This law is violated when someone agrees with one or more individuals to commit a crime, AND at least two members of the party commit act(s) to further the agreement.

Aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime is not the same as taking part in planning one. California’s conspiracy law covers this aspect. Being guilty of criminal conspiracy means the defendant:

  • Agreed with one or more individuals to commit a crime, and
    • You planned to commit a crime with them.
  • A member of the party took an overt-act to advance said plans.
    • An overt-act means active steps were taken to help accomplish the plan.
    • This does not necessarily mean the overt-act itself was the crime, but instead just one part of it.

Criminal conspiracy to commit PC 187, murder

You commit this crime if you are guilty of PC 182, criminal conspiracy AND the crime you and your cohorts were planning was murder. PC 187 is a felony and a conviction carries a potential life sentence in state prison.

You do not actually have to succeed in killing someone to be guilty. In fact, if steps were taken to bring the group (you and 1 or more conspirators) closer to the act, you can face felony consequences for PC 182. If the attempt was actually made to maliciously kill another person, attempted murder will be added to the list of charges.

Associated Offenses

Aiding another person before or during the commission of a crime will land you with a PC 31 charge. Providing support for this person after the fact also carries legal punishments.

Helping with a cover-up, destroying evidence, or making false statements in relation to a crime are known as obstruction of justice. Here just a few of those laws that are similar to aiding and abetting.

California PC 132, Offering false evidence;

This crime is committed if you knowingly provide false evidence in the form of a written document or record, during an investigation, trial, or inquiry.

California PC 134, Preparing false evidence;

You are guilty of this crime if you prepare false evidence and intend to use it fraudulently during any type of legal proceeding.

California PC 135, Destroying evidence;

Willfully destroying or hiding evidence that might be relevant to an investigation, trial, inquiry, or other legal proceeding is a crime.

California PC 136.1, Intimidating or dissuading a witness;

You violate this law if you tamper with a witness of a crime by either intimidating or dissuading them from reporting it or from testifying about it.

California PC 148, Resisting or obstructing a peace officer;

This law makes it a crime to willfully resist or obstruct a police officer or EMT (emergency medical technician) from performing their official duty.

California PC 148.5, Make a false police report of a crime;

You violate this law if you knowingly make a false report of a crime to a peace officer, Attorney General, deputy attorney general, district attorney, or deputy district attorney.

California PC 187, Murder;

You break this law if you unlawfully and with malice, kill another person or fetus.

The Prosecution

Aiding and abetting is commonly known as accomplice liability. It is a theory in which, arguably, someone who assists in a crime, no matter how trivial that aid is, should be held accountable to the crime that was committed. Under this principle, the facts of the case are an integral part of the prosecution getting a conviction. These specific factors are:

  • The defendant knew about the perpetrator’s unlawful plans,
  • The defendant encouraged and/or facilitated said plans, and
  • The defendant helped the perpetrator, in any way, to fulfill those illegal plans.

Were you under a lawful duty to share your knowledge of a crime or to prevent it?

There are instances in which failing to act before or during the commission of a crime is indicative of just how indifferent you were to that crime. Being under a lawful duty to stop a crime from happening does depend on who you are and what you did before and after the crime was committed.

Examples of who can face aiding and abetting:

A police officer witnessed a man fire their rifle into a crowd of innocent people. Instead of stopping the shooter, he waves them aside and allows them to hop into a vehicle and drive away. As a member of law enforcement, he chose not to act and it gave the perpetrator enough time to drive off. The officer was under a lawful duty to act because that is his profession, yet he failed to do anything. This can technically result in the officer facing an aiding and abetting offense. There will be disciplinary action when you choose to ignore a crime taking place while you are under a sworn legal duty to do your job.

A parent watches their 5-year-old get physically battered by a teenage cousin and did nothing to put a stop to it. As a parent, they are legally responsible for the well-being of their child which includes their physical and mental health. This parent simply watched as their small child was being beaten. Failing to put an end to the abuse as soon as they learned of it or preventing it from happening could result in the parent facing an aiding and abetting child abuse offense.

Do you have to be present at the scene of the crime?

You do not have to be present at the scene of the crime to be guilty of aiding and abetting in that crime.

Example of who can be charged:

Quinn was planning a bank robbery and had a crew to assist him. Leon wanted to participate, but could not be physically present. To help occupy the police in the area, he made false bomb threats to three locations on the opposite side of town. This impacted the police response time to the bank robbery which gave Quinn and his crew ample time to escape.

Leon could still face aiding and abetting bank robbery charges under PC 31, even though he was not at the scene of the crime. This means he will face the same penalties Quinn and his crew will get under PC 211, California felony robbery. Leon will also face multiple offenses for making false bomb threats under PC 148.1.

Can you be guilty if you were legally incapable of acting in the crime yourself?

Even if you are not capable of committing the crime, either legally or physically, you can still face an aiding and abetting offense. Remember, although some instances of aid might seem insubstantial, it all depends on what you did or said. All of your actions in relation to the crime can be analyzed under this accomplice liability theory.

Some common examples of aiding and abetting, in which you face the same penalties as the crime that was committed are:

  • If you provide verbal or gestural support for the perpetrator,
  • If you give resources, tools, equipment, or information that you know will be used to commit a crime,
  • Acted as a look-out during the commission of the crime,
  • Drove the get-away car,
  • Left the engine running, or
  • Purposely left a door or window unlocked.

Example of who can be charged:

Audrey is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. She knows her husband kidnaps women and locks them in the basement. She can hear the victims screaming for help, but does nothing to help them. Worried the neighbors will hear the screams, she regularly turns up the volume on her TV to drown them out. When her husband is finally arrested, she claims she knew nothing. The victims, however, claimed they would hear Audrey yell, “SHUT UP!” as she turned up the volume on her programs.

Although Audrey did not help kidnap these women, she knew about the crimes her husband was committing and chose not to report it. She also chose to maliciously silence the women by telling them to shut up and turning up the volume so they could not be heard by passersby. Audrey could be held accountable for aiding and abetting in the kidnappings, regardless of her physical disabilities.

Legal Defense

Challenging aiding and abetting charges means you have to prove you were not an accomplice to the crime that took place. This can be difficult to do without the help of a legal professional. An expert defense attorney will be able to recognize what the best legal defense would be to fight these charges on your behalf.

The following are just some of the common legal defenses used to dispute a PC 31, accomplice liability accusation.

Knowledge without liability: Were you under a lawful duty to act?

Knowing that a crime is being or has been committed does not mean you are guilty of aiding and abetting.

Example:

Crystal overhears her roommates’ planning to commit burglary. She confronts them about it and they laugh her off, claiming they weren’t serious. A string of burglaries takes place near their college campus. She suspects it was her roommates, but can’t prove it. One of her roomies gives her a new bracelet. As Crystal walks around campus, another student claims the bracelet belongs to them and was recently stolen. Crystal was arrested for burglary along with her roommates.

Crystal would not be guilty of aiding and abetting in the burglary as she was not apart of the plans. She admitted she knew of an alleged plan, but her roommates told her they weren’t serious. She was also not under a lawful duty to act because she did not think a crime was going to happen.

Did you facilitate, help, or provide motivations for the crime’s commission?

If you did not aid or encourage the perpetrators in the commission of a crime, you should not be guilty of PC 31.

Example:

Thatcher wanted to steal a car and go for a joy ride up the coast. He asked Tig to help him, but Tig declined, stating it was a stupid idea and he would get caught. Thatcher told him he was right. The next day, Tig finds out Thatcher succeeded and was driving a stolen mustang.

Although Tig knew about the crime, he did not help nor did he provide motivations for the crime. He would not be guilty of aiding and abetting. In fact, telling his friend it was not a good idea was his attempt to dissuade Thatcher from committing a felony.

When did you help: before, during, or after the commission of the crime?

Being an accomplice to a crime under PC 31 usually indicates you helped before or during the actual crime. If you assisted after the crime was already committed, you would most likely face an accessory after the fact charge as opposed to an aiding and abetting offense.

Example:

Soni stole merchandise from the mall and ran to his friend, Nikki’s house. He hid the items in Nikki’s closet and told her when things calm down, they could pawn everything and split the money. He asked to stay with her until the police stopped looking for him. Nikki didn’t want her friend to be arrested and agreed to let him hide at her place.

Nikki did not help commit the theft and had no prior knowledge of the crime. She would not be guilty of aiding and abetting. However, because she chose to keep the stolen merchandise hidden and help hide Soni from the authorities, Nikki could face charges for accessory after the fact under PC 32.

Penalties for Aiding and Abetting

If convicted of aiding and abetting PC 31, the consequences depend on the specific crime you were helping with or engaging in.

For instance, if you provided aid in the commission of a felony, you would face the same felony penalties as if you had committed the crime yourself. If the crime was a misdemeanor, you would face the same consequences as the perpetrator.

Penalties for Closely Related Offenses

California Penal Code 32, accessory after the fact;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and

Fines as high as five thousand dollars.

Felony;

16 months, 2 or 3 years in state prison, and

As much as five thousand dollars in fines.

California Penal Code 182, criminal conspiracy;

You face the same penalties as the crime you were conspiring to commit. Planning to commit a felony will result in felony consequences. If the crime was a misdemeanor, you face a wobbler, either a misdemeanor or felony punishments.

Penalties for Associated Offenses

California PC 132, Offering false evidence;

Felony;

16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail, and

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

California PC 134, Preparing false evidence;

Felony;

16 months, 2 or 3-year county jail sentence, and

As much as ten thousand dollars in fines.

California PC 135, Destroying evidence;

Misdemeanor;

Up to six months in county jail, and

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

California PC 136.1, Intimidating or tampering with a witness;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Felony;

A county jail sentence of either 2, 3, or 4 years, and

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

California PC 148, Resisting or obstructing a peace officer;

Misdemeanor;

A possible one-year county jail sentence, and

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

California PC 148.5, Make a false police report of a crime;

Misdemeanor;

Summary (informal) probation,

A potential six-month county jail sentence, and/or

A maximum fine of one thousand dollars.

California PC 187, Murder;

Felony - 2nd-degree murder;

15 years to life in prison.

Felony - Capital Murder;

Life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Felony - 1st-degree murder;

25 years to life in prison, or

25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Let Us Help You

Do not treat an aiding and abetting charge lightly. A PC 31 charge is just as serious as the crime itself because you will face the same legal punishments as the perpetrator. If you or someone you love is facing a PC 31 offense or any of the related offenses and are located in San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum.

Attorney Yum understands what is at stake when fighting such harsh accusations. As a highly trusted criminal defense lawyer, you can expect an aggressive fight for your rights and your future.

We can help. For more information or to schedule a free consultation, simply call 619-233-4433 or you can use our online contact form.

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