It has long been a principle in American jurisdiction that others who aided the commission of a crime should face punishment as well as those who carry out the actual criminal act.
In Florida, the law holds that a person who aids a person after they have committed a crime is an accessory to that crime. There are several ways to act as an accessory, such as attempting to dispose of evidence or helping the suspect of a crime evade police. To be convicted of being an accessory in Florida, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew another person committed a felony, the defendant assisted the person who committed the felony, and the defendant and the person he assisted are not related to each other.
Aiding and Abetting
There are two main types of accessory crimes:
- Aiding, which is helping, supporting, or assisting another commit a crime, and
- Abetting, which is inducing, inciting, or encouraging another to commit a crime.
Often people are charged with both helping the crime or encouraging it to happen, and that is typically described as the single act of aiding and abetting. Also, the time relative to the crime during which their acts were carried out are expressed by saying the assistance was either “before the fact” or “after the fact.”
Knowledge and Assistance
In order to obtain a conviction, the prosecutor must show that the defendant possessed knowledge of the crime and assisted in its commission as well. Both elements must be present – if a person knows of a crime but does not help with its commission, or a person helps a crime occur but was unaware that his help was in commission of a crime, they cannot be convicted of accessory to a crime in Florida.
If a person’s involvement in a crime was great enough, that person’s accessory charge may become a conspiracy charge. In this case, the prosecution must show that the defendant had a direct and significant involvement with the original crime or the planning or concealment of it.
The punishment for being convicted of accessory after the fact is often quite severe. Under Florida law, if the felony offense is a capitol crime, accessory after the fact to it is a first-degree felony, and the sentence is up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If the principal crime is a life felony or a felony of the first degree, accessory after the fact is a felony of the second degree, with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
If the principal crime is a felony of the second degree, or a felony of the third degree of levels 3-10, a conviction of accessory after the fact is a third-degree felony, the sentence is up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. For all other third-degree felonies, accessory after the fact is a first-degree misdemeanor, which brings a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.