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Aiding & Abetting

Aiding and abetting means offering some form of assistance in the execution of a crime. It entails doing something or saying something that enhances or furthers criminal activity. Aiding and abetting are also known as accomplice liability theory. If you are facing charges for aiding and abetting in Los Angeles, we at Leah Legal can help you fight the charges.

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Overview of Aiding and Abetting

You can face charges for aiding and abetting if you help another person to commit a crime. To charge you with the crime of aiding and abetting, the prosecutor has to prove several elements. The prosecutor has to prove that you were aware of the illegal plan of the perpetrator of the crime. The prosecutor has to prove that you intentionally encourage or facilitate the execution of the plan. It must be evident that you took part in aiding or instigating the crime under investigation.

Most people assume that to face charges for aiding and abetting, you must have promoted or encouraged the criminal activity in advance. However, this is not the case; you can commit the crime of aiding and abetting instantaneously as the crime. You may learn about the execution of a crime and instantly encourage, promote, or facilitate the commission of the crime. In such a case, the court may find you guilty of aiding and abetting.

Your conduct of facilitating or promoting a crime does not have to be a substantial factor in the offense. You can be guilty under California Penal Code 31 even if you slightly aided the commission of a crime. Some examples of aiding a crime include acting as a lookout to check whether the scene is clear and warn the crime executors of any danger or presence of law enforcement officers. You may also be guilty of abetting if you keep a car engine running with the intention of helping the criminals vacate the scene of a crime. You may also be liable if you drive the vehicle used by offenders to escape from the crime scene.

You may still face charges under Penal Code 31 PC even if you are incapable of carrying out the crime yourself. For example, a woman may be guilty of rape under Penal Code 31 PC even if it is not possible for a woman to rape another woman. If a woman encourages a man to rape another woman, and even looks out for the man as he commits the offense, the woman may be guilty of aiding and abetting rape. Charges may also apply if a woman encourages another woman to meet in a deserted place with a man with the intention of having the man rape the woman.

Most people confuse the crime of aiding and abetting with the crime of conspiracy. The two crimes are closely related yet very distinct from each other. In the crime of conspiracy, an agreement to participate in committing criminal activity must exist. However, in aiding and abetting, an agreement to participate in a crime is not necessary.

Accomplice Charges

It is important to note that when you commit a crime of aiding and abetting, the prosecutor does not charge you with aiding and abetting. Instead, the prosecutor charges you with the underlying crime. For instance, if you aided the crime of robbery with violence, the prosecutor charges you with robbery with violence. The prosecutor then presents your case on the theory that you aided or abetted the commission of the crime. 

As the court determines whether you acted as an abettor, several factors will count. The court will determine whether you were present at the scene of the crime. The court also determines your companionship with the other executors of the crime. The court also evaluates your conduct before and after the crime under investigation. These three factors will help the court determine whether to charge you as an accomplice. However, these factors are not conclusive. 

Even if you were not at the crime scene, you might still face charges for aiding or abetting a crime. You may also face aiding and abetting charges even if you did not logistically or physically assist in the execution of the crime. As long as it is clear that you promoted, instigated, or encouraged the commission of a crime, you may face these charges. The California Penal Code 31 considers that if you aided in any way, directly or indirectly, the commission of a crime, you are liable to criminal charges. The law also considers if you encouraged the perpetrator by word of mouth or by gestures to carry out the crime. 

For example, your spouse may encourage you to commit insurance fraud by filing a fraudulent personal injury claim. Your spouse forges all the paperwork and files all the necessary claims. All along, you are aware of the fraudulent activities, and you even confirm to the insurance company that you suffered the said damages. You even tell the insurance company that you had received medical treatment yet you had not. You lie that you had taken some time off work and yet you had not. Upon facing fraud charges, you argue that you are not guilty because you did not forge the insurance documents and you did not file the false claims. Although your spouse filled the fake claim documents and filed a fake claim, you may still face charges for aiding and abetting an insurance fraud.

The court may maintain that since you were aware that your spouse filed fake claims on your behalf, you are guilty as well. You were aware of the perpetrator's plan. You also aided the plan of the perpetrator by lying to the insurance company. Therefore, even if you did not physically participate in the crime, you are guilty under the aiding and abetting theory.

Knowledge Alone Does Not Qualify for Aiding and Abetting Charges

At times, you may be aware that an offense is about to occur, and you fail to prevent it. However, this knowledge is not enough to earn you a conviction for aiding and abetting. However, if you have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the crime, you may face charges. You could face aiding and abetting charges for failing to exercise your legal obligation to prevent a crime.

How can you tell that you have a legal duty to report a crime? Certain people in different professions have legal duties to prevent or report a crime. For instance, doctors, teachers, and other professionals have a legal duty to report suspected criminal activities and abuse. In California, parents also have a legal duty to exercise reasonable supervision, control, protection, and care over their minor children.

You may face charges under California Penal Code 31 if you have a legal duty to prevent crime and you fail to do so or attempt to stop the crime. For example, a defendant watched as her partner molested their five-year-old daughter on several occasions. The defendant did not report the crime or raise awareness of what was happening. Upon facing charges for aiding and abetting lewd acts on a minor, the defendant denied the charges. She argued that she did not take part or encourage the lewd acts on the daughter. However, her presence encouraged the partner to molest the daughter and encouraged her daughter to comply with the act instead of resisting.

The defendant also had a legal duty to protect her daughter because, in California, parents have a legal obligation to protect minor children from harm. Therefore, the defendant will face charges for aiding and abetting. 

Fighting Aiding and Abetting Charges

There are several ways of fighting charges under California Penal Code 31. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can fight the charges against you.  Some of the most common defenses include:

You Did Not Aid, Encourage, or Facilitate Commission of the Crime

You cannot be guilty of aiding and abetting if you did not facilitate, encourage, or aid the commission of a crime. For instance, you may board a passenger vehicle without knowing that the driver and other occupants are on a mission to execute a crime. The driver parks the vehicle and alights with other occupants leaving you in the vehicle. You are not aware that the driver and the other occupants have proceeded to rob a store. In this situation, you were merely present, and you did not know the intention of the driver and other offenders. You did not do anything to facilitate the perpetrators' plan.

It is common for misunderstandings to occur, making you an accomplice in a crime. The prosecutor may allege that you aided, encouraged, or facilitated a crime, yet you are innocent. If you did not intentionally engage in aiding a crime, you should not face accomplice liability according to California Penal Code 31.

You Were Falsely Accused

In this case, there is no physical proof that you took part in aiding a crime. Therefore, it is easy for another person to accuse you of aiding and abetting a crime while you are innocent. A perpetrator may attempt to divert his/her criminal liability by framing you as the mastermind of the crime. A person may also accuse you of aiding or abetting a crime out of anger, jealousy, or revenge. A criminal defense attorney can use effective ways of investigating and scrutinizing witnesses. With the help of an attorney, you can fight to aid and abetting charges and ensure that the truth comes out. 

Withdrawing from Participation

You can also fight charges for aiding and abetting a crime by asserting that you withdrew from participation in criminal activities. There are many ways of withdrawing from criminal activity. One such way is by notifying perpetrators of the crime or other people involved in executing the crime of your intention to withdraw from the crime. You may also withdraw if you do everything that you are capable of to prevent the crime from going forward.

For example, you and your friend may decide to rob a convenience store. Your role is to be on the lookout as your friend enters the store and threatens the cashier. As you drive towards the store, you decide that you no longer want to take part in the crime. You tell your friend that you are backing out of the crime and even attempt to tell him to do the same. However, your friend is stubborn and decides to execute the crime single-handedly. You call the police and anonymously inform them that a robbery will take place at the store. However, the police arrive late when the robbery has already happened.

In this scenario, the court may determine if you effectively communicated your intention to back out /withdraw from the robbery. You also tried to talk your friend out of the robbery, thus attempting to stop the commission of the crime. The court may drop the robbery charges against you and wet you free.

You may decide to withdraw from the robbery, and you inform your friend of your intention. You even attempt to talk your friend out of the plan but without success. However, instead of informing the police, you decide to go home even if you are aware that your friend will still carry on with the robbery. In this case, you did not do anything to prevent the crime from occurring. Therefore, the court may still consider you an accomplice in the robbery. 

No Legal Duty to Act

You may be aware that a crime is about to take place, and you do nothing to prevent it. However, you cannot face charges unless you had a legal duty to act.  Under the Penal Code 31, you cannot face charges for being an aider or abettor if you had no legal duty to stop the crime. Often, the law confers legal duties upon you. As long as the legal duty does not exist, you can walk free. The mere knowledge of an underlying crime is not enough to make you face aiding and abetting charges. 

Aided the Crime after Its Commission

You can strive for a reduction of your charges by asserting that you only aided/facilitated a crime after its commission. If you facilitate a crime after it is over, you are not an aider or abettor. In this case, you are an accessory after the fact. If you are an accessory after the crime, you are not an accomplice under Penal Code 31, but instead, you are an obstructer of justice.

For an accessory after the fact, you will face a much lower penalty than you would if you were an accomplice in crime. For example, if you aid or abet a crime of carjacking in California, you may face up to 9 years in state prison. However, if you are an accessory after the fact, the longest imprisonment you can face is three years in a California State Prison. 

Acted Under Duress

You may also assert that it was against your will to aid or abet the execution of a crime. You may say that you were under a threat of serious bodily injury or death or yourself or another person, and this made you aid in the commission of the crime.  This defense is known as duress and is a viable defense under many criminal offenses.

Penalties for Aiding and Abetting a Crime

Under California law, there is no difference between the principal perpetrator and the accomplice of a crime. Therefore, for a conviction of aiding and abetting, you will face similar charges as the principal perpetrator of the crime. You will face the same consequences as the person who executed the crime. If you aid a crime after its commission, you will face charges for accessory after the crime. This is a charge on its own and is a misdemeanor or felony under California law.

Natural and Probable Consequences

In some instances, a person who is guilty of a particular crime may be guilty of other crimes that may arise due to your aiding and abetting. The prosecutor may charge you with a related crime as long as he/she can prove that you are guilty of the intended crime. The prosecutor must also prove that in committing the intended crime, you committed a related offense. It must be evident that a reasonable person in your position would have been aware that the related offense was a natural and probable consequence of the intended crime.

Accomplice Liability for Murder

In some instances, an aider or abettor may face greater charges for homicide-related offense than the perpetrator of the offense. The Supreme Court of California recognized this fact. This may happen because, at the time, the defenses that are personal to the perpetrator may not apply to the aider or abettor.  For example, two people may fire shots, and only one shot kills the victim. The killer is the perpetrator of the crime while the other person who shot and missed is the aider or abettor. On facing charges, the perpetrator may argue that he acted in self-defense. The perpetrator may face lower charges of voluntary manslaughter. If the aider is not able to defend himself and faces accomplice charges, he will be guilty of murder while the real killer faces lower charges of voluntary manslaughter. 

Contact A Van Nuys Criminal Lawyer

If you are facing Aiding & Abetting charges, the associated penalties are similar to those faced by the principal perpetrator. You don’t have to fight this charge alone. We at Leah Legal in Los Angeles can help you to come up with a proper defense for the charges. Contact us at 818-484-1100 and speak to us today.