There are three main ways that a person can become criminally liable for being an accomplice to a crime.  The term accomplice generally means someone who encourages or aids another to perform a criminal act.  This is different than solicitation which occurs when someone encourages another to commit a criminal act, but the person declines to commit the criminal act.

What Types Of Accessory Charges Can Be Brought Against Someone?

There are generally four different types of criminal charges that can be brought against an accomplice.  First, there is the principal in the first degree.  The person who personally performed the crime is called a principal in the first degree.  For example, if Alex and Bob plan to shoot Carl to death, and Alex is the one who actually pulls the trigger, Alex is the principal in the first degree.  Remember, every completed crime must have at least one first-degree principal (some can have multiple principal’s in the first degree).

Second, there is a principal in the second degree.  The principal in the second degree is one who is present at the crime’s commission and aids and abets its commission, but does not personally perform a any acts that constitute the criminal act.  For example, if Alan and Beta decide to murder Cindy, and Beta is present when Alan does the shooting, Beta is a second-degree principal.  Being present for a criminal act can sometimes be called “constructive” if the person is not physically at the scene of the crime.  For example, if Beta is the lookout for the crime, then Beta would probably be considered a principal in the second degree.

Third, and most commonly, is an accessory before the fact.  An accessory before the fact is like a principal in the second degree in that they help the person committing the crime, but they are not present.  Sometimes the person who plans the crime (the brains of the crime) is considered the accessory before the fact if they have no involvement in the crime.  For example, if Dan draws up plans to rob a bank that includes the security guard’s shift hours, the vault combination and the amount of time it will take for the police to show up, but Dan gives these plans to Morgan.  Morgan thinking that Dan wrote a pretty good plan, gathers his friends and rob the bank.  Here, Dan could be considered an accessory before the fact.

Finally, a person could be charged with being an accessory after the fact.  An accessory after the fact is someone who does not participate in the crime itself, but who gives assistance after the crime has been committed.  The most common example is when a person hides another from the police.  For example, Roger and Tonya steal jewelry from a jewelry store.  After they run out of the store, they drive straight to Roger’s mother’s house.  Roger’s mom sees all the stolen jewelry, and Roger admits they are on the run from the law.  He begs his mother to hide them until the police stop looking for them.  Roger’s mother agrees to hide them, setting them up in her basement and hiding Roger’s car.  Roger’s mom could be charged with being an accessory after the fact.

Do you think this is fair? Should you be charged if you simply give someone information and they commit a crime?  Should a mother be punished for trying to hide their son from the police?