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Accomplice Liability – The Long Arm of the Criminal Law

clp8_scale logoWhile it is typically a good deed to help someone, helping someone commit a crime can get you in trouble. In fact, under the legal principle of “accomplice liability,” such a helper risks being charged, convicted and sentenced for the same crime as the principal perpetrator – even if he did not benefit from, and were not present when the crime was committed.

Accomplice liability, or aiding and abetting, allows prosecutors to cast a very broad net and charge every person who encourages, facilitates or aides another in committing a crime. For example, in a bank robbery, the person who points a gun at the teller and grabs the money is guilty of armed robbery. But prosecutors may also file armed robbery charges against any other person involved; including the person who drives the get-a-way car, the person who serves as a look-out, or the person who provides information about the lay-out of the bank. In this case, all four offenders can be equally responsible to the same degree of guilt, even though only one of them actually pointed the gun and took the money.