Criminal Law

What Is Aiding and Abetting?

By Jessica Gillespie, Legal Researcher and Editor
Aiding and abetting occurs when someone intentionally helps or encourages another person to commit a crime.

Laws vary a bit across states, but aiding and abetting is typically the act of deliberately helping someone else (known as the “principal” or “perpetrator”) commit a criminal offense. The driver of a getaway car after an armed robbery, for example, is aiding and abetting the robber. Courts often call aiders and abettors “accomplices.”

In general, the elements of aiding and abetting are:

  • knowing that someone else is going to commit a crime
  • intending to encourage or assist in the commission of the offense, and
  • doing something to help the perpetrator carry out the crime.

In most cases, a person doesn’t have to participate in the actual criminal act to be guilty of aiding and abetting. Someone who offers encouraging words or gestures to a perpetrator can, for instance, be convicted. For example, convincing someone to kill another person or showing someone how to commit murder can be considered aiding and abetting if the person goes through with the crime.

Typically, someone charged with aiding and abetting doesn’t need to be present at the scene of the crime to be convicted. If, for example, Dave is standing nearby as a lookout while Steve robs a gas station, Dave is guilty of aiding and abetting the robbery.

Penalties for aiding and abetting differ by jurisdiction, but many states’ statutes—and federal law—make no distinction between an aider and abettor and the actual perpetrator of the crime. That means that someone who assists in the commission of a crime can be prosecuted and punished in the same manner as the principal offender. So, for example, if Joe talks Sam into breaking into a home and provides tools to get inside the building, both men can be convicted of and sentenced for burglary.

Go to the main crime definitions FAQ page.

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