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The term “aiding” and the term “abetting” are similar legal concepts. But each has a slightly different meaning. Aiding a crime means helping someone else commit a crime. Abetting means to encourage or incite a criminal act. Although to abet does not necessarily mean that you help or facilitate its execution.
Both aiding and abetting are crimes and forms of accomplice liability. A conviction usually comes with the same penalties as the underlying offense.
While the crime is often referred to as “aiding and abetting,” either one suffices. You can be liable if you aid a criminal activity, or if you abet in it.1
Anyone who intentionally helps someone else commit a crime is aiding them.
The crime has to actually be committed. The assistance has to actually help in the commission of the offense.2
To be liable for aiding a crime, you have to:
Physical presence at the scene of the crime is not required. You can be liable for aiding a criminal offense if you were not there when it happened.4 However, it is treated as a factor in whether you were aiding in the offense.5
Example: Alan asks Bob for the floor plan of a bank’s vault so they can rob it. Bob gives it to him, but does not participate in the robbery. He stays at home, instead.
Abetting a crime means encouraging or supporting it. That support can be active, in the form of instigation. It can also be passive. If you know the offense is happening and are present for its commission, you can be liable for abetting.6 By knowing it is happening and doing nothing, it can support the offense.
Some states use other words in place of, or in addition to, “abet.” Some of these words include:
Abetting still requires a shared intent to commit a crime with the perpetrator.
Example: Zach hires Alan to rob the bank. Alan then gets his team together and they conduct the robbery.
Example: Paul was in a car accident. He knows that his girlfriend is forging documents for his insurance claim. He goes along with it, anyway.8
There are 2 nuanced differences between aiding and abetting a crime:
However, there are more similarities shared by aiding and abetting. These include:
Both aiding and abetting are examples of accomplice liability.
This is liability for a crime that was committed by someone else. Under accomplice liability, you can be punished for a crime that someone else committed.
Examples of accomplice liability include:
The person who actually commits the crime is the principal. His or her helpers – including those who aid or abet in the crime – are accomplices. Anyone who helps after the crime is complete is an accessory after the fact.
The penalties of aiding or abetting a crime depend on the crime, itself.
Most states use the same penalties for aiding and abetting as for the crime. These states treat accomplices the same as the principal of a crime. California is one of these states.9
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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