Legal Dictionary

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Aiding and Abetting

A person may be guilty of a crime in two ways. One, he or she may have directly committed the crime. I will call that person the perpetrator. Two, he or she may have aided and abetted a perpetrator, who directly committed the crime. A person is guilty of a crime whether he or she committed it personally, or aided and abetted the perpetrator. California Criminal Jury Instruction 400.

Aiding and abetting means to assist or facilitate another person in the commission of a crime, or to promote its accomplishment. In California, aiding and abetting is not itself a crime but rather a legal rule that allows prosecutors to charge everyone who participated in the commission of a crime - - -even if they didn't directly perpetrate the crime. A person who aids or abets a crime is guilty of that crime even if another person committed some or all of the criminal acts.

In order to prove a defendant guilty of a crime based on aiding and abetting, the prosecutor must prove:

  • A perpetrator committed the crime;
  • The defendant knew that the perpetrator intended to commit the crime;
  • Before or during the commission of the crime, the defendant intended to aid and abet the perpetrator in committing the crime; and
  • The defendant's words or conduct did in fact aid and abet the perpetrator's commission of the crime.

It is important to note that mere presence at the scene of a crime does not constitute aiding and abetting. Of course, "mere presence" by a defendant may be charged as criminal conduct if that person appeared to be a "lookout" or added "muscle" for the main perpetrator to commit the crime.

The penalties for the aider and abettor are the same as the penalties for the perpetrator. For example, in a murder case, if the perpetrator acted willfully with premeditation and deliberation then just as he or she is subject to life in prison, the aider and abettor is also subject to life in prison.