What’s the difference between aiding and abetting?

The term ‘aiding’ and the term ‘abetting’ are similar legal concepts. But each has a slightly different meaning. let’s briefly examine these legal concepts as it relates to the commission of crimes.

Aiding a crime means helping someone else to commit a crime or wrond against the state. While abetting is to encourage or incite, stir up or to rouse 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 aide a criminal activity, or if you abet in it.

To Aid a crime, what does it mean?

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.

To be liabble for aiding a crime, you have to:

  1. Know that the person you are helping is trying to commit a crime, and
  2. Voluntarily act in a way that helps them commit it.

Note: Mere physical presence at the scene of crime without more is not an offence. You can be liable for aiding a criminal offense if you were not there when it happened. However, it is treated as a factor in whether you were aiding in the offense.

For example: Gabby asks Greg for the floor plan of a bank’s vault so they can rob it. Greg gives it to him, but does not participate in the robbery. He stays at home, instead.

What then is abetting? – What’s the difference between aiding and abetting?

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. 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:

  1. Encourage,
  2. Advise
  3. Counsel
  4. Induce.

Abetting still requires a shared intent to commit a crime with the perpetrator.

Example 1: Zach hires Alan to rob the bank. Alan then gets his team together and they conduct the robbery.
Example 2: Paul was in a car accident. He knows that his girlfriend is forging documents for his insurance claim. He goes along with it, anyways.

How are they different and how are they similar?

There are 2 differences between aiding and abetting a crime:

  1. Aiding a crime requires an act of assistance, while abetting does not, and
  2. Unlike for abetting, there has to be evidence that the aid helped in the crime’s commission.

However, there are more similarities shared by aiding and abetting. These includes:

  1. The crime has to be committed by someone,
  2. The aiding or abetting happens before the crime is committed
  3. Liability for aiding or abetting requires intent for the crime to happen
  4. Anyone aiding or abetting has to know that the perpetrator intends to commit the crime, and;
  5. Physical presence at the scene of a crime is a factor for aiding or abetting, but is not necessary for liability.
Who is an accomplice?

Both aiding and abetting are examples of an 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:

  1. Aiding;
  2. Abetting, or;
  3. Being an accessory after the facts

The person who actually commits the crime is the principal offender. 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.

What are the penalties of aiding or abetting a crime?

The penalties of aiding or abetting a crime depends on the gravity of 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.

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