What is Accomplice Liability in a Federal Case?

You don’t have to commit a criminal offense directly to find yourself in the crosshairs of a federal investigation. If you assisted anyone in committing any unlawful activity, you could be charged as an accomplice.

Worse, under federal law, an accomplice is punishable as a principle. You won’t necessarily face a lighter sentence just because you were only accused of helping out. You’d face the same sentence as the person who committed the primary crime. 

An accomplice is distinct from an “aider and abetter,” who is not punishable as a principal. Aiding and abetting is receiving, relieving, comforting, or assisting an offender in hindering or preventing apprehension, trial, or punishment. It’s also known as becoming an “accessory after the fact.” 

It is also distinct from the crime of conspiracy, which involves having a plan or an agreement to commit a crime, versus an accomplice situation where you took action on impulse or in the moment, with no extant pre-existing agreement to work from. 

To charge you as an accomplice, the government must prove the following:

  1. You took affirmative action to aid the underlying offense, offering assistance in words, acts, encouragement, support, or presence. 
  2. You took that action with the intent of facilitating the crime. If your friend shows up at your door and asks you to do something, and you have no idea that it’s anything other than a routine favor, for example, you would not be guilty of this crime. 

While intent is difficult to prove or disprove, our office has successfully used a lack of intention to defend against accomplice charges in the past. Simple knowledge of the crime isn’t always enough to prove intent, but the knowledge that a crime is about to be committed may be enough. 

Accomplice liability is a complex area of criminal law that has been subject to a great deal of debate and back-and-forth over the course of numerous criminal cases. If you’re being charged as an accomplice, you cannot afford to read a single blog post and decide you are in the clear.

Instead, you must call us for a case review. We have extensive experience with federal cases and can help you navigate this situation to its best possible outcome. We may even help you strike a deal with the US Attorney’s office that keeps you out of trouble.

Contact us to get started today.

See also:

What is the Crime of Conspiracy?

What Are the Grounds for Suppressing Evidence in a New York or Federal Criminal Case?

Can You Hire a Federal Criminal Attorney Before Charges Are Filed?  

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