Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary
Someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal. For instance, the driver of the getaway car for a burglary is an accomplice and will be guilty of the burglary even though he may not have entered the building.
a person who joins with another in carrying out some plan (especially an unethical or illegal plan)
An accomplice is a person who knowingly, voluntarily, and with common intent unites with another person to perform a criminal action. The person does not have to actually participate in the crime to be considered an accomplice. An accomplice must give assistance, encouragement or fail to perform a legal duty to prevent the criminal action with the intent thereby to promote or facilitate the commission of the crime.
Common actions of accomplices include supplying money, guns, or supplies for a crime. For example, if you knew someone wanted to kill their wife and you bought the gun and gave it to the other person to be used in the crime, even if you did not actually participate in the murder, you could be considered an accomplice.
An accomplice can be convicted even if the main offender is not convicted and may be subject to the same degree of punishment as the principal offender, although in 1982 the Supreme Court ruled “that the accomplice cannot receive the death penalty if upon an accomplice to a felony-murder, a crime leading to murder, if he or she had no intention to, or did not, kill the victim.”
A person who assists in the perpetration of an indictable offence but is not the direct cause of the Actus Reus; the term ‘accessory’ is also used. The person responsible for the direct commission of the Actus Reus is usually referred to as the ‘principal’ (or ‘principal offender’, see: Principal (criminal)), everyone else is a ‘secondary party’. An accomplice is defined as someone who ‘aids, abets, counsels, or procures’ the offence. It is not entirely clear whether these words should be construed as technical terms, or plain words. It appears that, when there was a legal distinction between ‘accessories before the fact’ (accomplices who assisted in preparation) and ‘principals in the second degree (accomplices at the scene of the crime), then ‘aiding and abetting’ applied to the latter accomplice, while ‘counselling and procuring’ applied to the former. As there is no longer a distinction in law between these ways of being an accomplice, the four terms are normally used together on an indictment.
The general rule in English law is that accomplices are as liable for the offence as the principal offender. However, the principal and the accomplices are not necessarily equivalent. First, accomplices may not attract as severe a sentence as principals. Second, in offences of Strict Liability, the principal need not be blameworthy (that is, lack Mens Rea). But an accomplice must as a minimum have an intention to carry out the acts that assist the principal offender. The accomplice’s Mens Rea is that relevant at the time of the assistance, not at the time of the offence (see below).
Liability as an accomplice applies to all offences unless specifically excluded by statute. Moreover, in some cases, a statute will elevate the status of an accomplice to that of a principal offender, typically to ensure that a severe sentence is available. A notable example is a Female circumcision; abetting the procedure is deemed to be equivalent to carrying it out.
This all seems quite straightforward but, in fact, there are a number of technical problems associated with the law of accomplice, so of which are discussed below.
It can be very difficult to distinguish between a Joint enterprise, where all offenders are jointly liable by means of sharing a criminal purpose, and the situation where a group of offenders are liable as accomplices for offences committed by others in the group. It is not clear that English law even has a distinct concept of ‘joint enterprise’, although some have argued that it has.
The term accomplice is not normally used to describe a person who assists an offender after the offence has been committed (see: Assistance after the offence). Nor is it used of a person who incites another to the offence (because the offence need not be committed for the offence of Incitement to be made out). In fact, the offences related to offering assistance after the offence (as defined in s.4 of the Criminal law act 1967 as similar to those of being an accomplice, but there are some important distinctions.
First, the ‘assistant’ can be guilty even if the principal is acquited, as is the case for an accomplice. However, an accomplice can be convicted if the principal is acquited, even if it is recognized that the principal is not guilty. In the trial of the assistant, the principal must be held to be guilty, even if he was acquited in his own trial. This means that, in the ‘rape’ example above, X could not be found guilty of assisting Y to evade arrest, because Y could not be shown to be guilty of rape. X could, however, be found guilty of being an accomplice to rape, even if the actual rapist were acquited.
Second, it is an offence to be an accomplice to an indictable offence, but the offences of assistance after the offence refer to an Arrestable offence. While there is some overlap between these groups of offences, they are not identical.
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This glossary post was last updated: 22nd April, 2020 | 11 Views.