What Does It Mean to Be an Accomplice in a Criminal Case?


An accomplice is someone who knowingly and voluntarily participated in the commission of a crime by aiding another person to commit such crimes. An accomplice does not directly commit the offense; they perpetrate a crime by playing a part in the success of the criminal offense. This makes the accomplice equally guilty of the offense committed by the principal person because they intentionally aided another in committing a crime.

An accomplice is complicit and can be either an accessory or an abettor. These two terminologies differ slightly from each other.

Differences between an Accessory and an Abettor

An accomplice could act as an accessory or an abettor in committing a crime. The difference is that an accessory aid the principal, that is, the offender, before the crime. An accessory does not have to be present at the scene where the crime is committed. The accessory must have given counsel, procured, or encouraged the offender before committing the crime.

While an abettor is constructively present in the commission of a crime, with common intent, the abettor incites, gives, and encourages the offender in the act of the crime. The abettor aids the offender during the crime itself.

Difference between a Principal and an Accomplice

The main perpetrator of a crime is generally referred to as the principal. In contrast, the person assisting in committing such crimes is the accomplice. The accomplice only plays a supporting role in the commission of the crime. For instance, a robber who goes to rob the bank at night is the principal, and the security who works for the bank and leaves the doors unlocked or may give the passcode to the robber is an accomplice.

How are people charged as an accomplice?

A persecutor must be able to prove the following elements before someone can be charged as an accomplice;

  • Another person must have committed a crime.
  • The person must have been fully aware of the crime and knowingly or purposefully assisted in the crime.
  • The person must have counseled or encouraged the other person to commit the crime.

For criminal culpability, an accomplice is criminally liable to the same extent as the principal. States laws distinguish between accessory before the act and accessory after the act. Some states consider an accessory as an aider or abettor before the act and possibly charge the same punishment as the principal. On the other hand, the accessory after the act faces a less serious charge than the principal.

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