The California Law on Aiding and Abetting a Criminal Offense
Many think that aiding and abetting is a criminal offense in itself. It is, in the state of California, the legal maxim that allows the prosecution of an individual who had knowledge of the commission of an offense. These individuals need not be direct participants in the crime, just the knowledge would make them liable under the law.
The crime is committed in any of the ways described as follows:
- For the knowledge of the illegal plan of the perpetrators;
- For intentionally encourage and/or facilitate the performance of such crime;
- For aiding, promoting or instigating the commission of the crime;
The encouragement need not be a separate act in itself or in advance. The criminal acts can be committed instantaneously to the commission of the planned crime. If one comes to information about the commission of the crime and encourages, facilitates, or promotes its commission, the offense attaches because of the theory of accomplice liability. Furthermore, there is no requirement that the conduct is substantive in the commission of the offense as the liability attaches even if the act is slight. The criminal liability also attaches to individuals who may not be capable of committing the planned crime.
This goes into the difference between conspiracy and aiding and abetting. In conspiracy, there must be an agreement to participate in the commission of the criminal offense while in aiding and abetting, there need not be an actual agreement between the individual committing the offense and the others aiding and abetting its commission.
As a matter of criminal procedure, the prosecutor does not charge the individual with aiding and abetting. What is actually done is that the individual aiding and abetting would be charged with the same crime. Oftentimes, the aider/abettor would be charged as an accomplice, depending on specific circumstances. These circumstances include proximity to the scene of the crime, relationship with the principals, and their conduct before or after the commission of the offense.
Another concept included in this provision is the legal duty of every individual to report the future or actual commission of a crime. Each individual has the legal duty to take every step reasonable possible in the prevention of the commission of the crime. Failure to do such with the knowledge of such crime would be a liability as an aider and abettor to the crime. This legal duty differs according to the status of the individual in society. Each individual though has the duty to prevent a crime being committed and failure to reasonably do so would make them liable as an accomplice.
The penalties imposable under this Section of the California Penal Code depends on the factual circumstances in the crime committed that was aided and abetted. When the aid provided before the commission of the offense, then the individual would be liable as an accessory before the fact or principal to the crime. There is an exception to this though in murder offenses as the aider and abettor may have committed more offenses than the actual perpetrator of the offense.
Another fact looked into in this offense are the natural and probable consequences of the acts of the actual perpetrator aided and abetted. These results make the aider and abettor equally responsible for any other crimes that were committed aside from the actual crime aided and abetted.