What it Means to Be an 'Accessory' to a Crime

When we think of criminal charges, many of us assume we must have actually committed a crime to be prosecuted for it, however, that is not necessarily the case. In criminal law, it’s entirely possible to face criminal prosecution for contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime.

How can someone face criminal charges if they weren’t present when the crime was committed? There are several different ways this can happen, and here are some examples:

  • By coming up with the idea
  • By commanding someone to commit the crime
  • By hiring someone to commit the crime
  • By instigating the commission of the crime
  • By giving advice on how to carry out the crime
  • By concealing the crime, before or after the fact

Essentially, someone can be nailed for being an “accessory” to a crime if they in any way knowingly assisted, contributed to, aided or offered advice to another so they could commit a crime.

A perfect example of being an accessory would be the murder for hire situation. Let’s say that Pam, a married woman, was having an affair with Phil.

When Phil learns about Pam’s husband’s $1,000,0000 life insurance policy, Phil suggests that Pam hires a hitman to kill her husband. This way, she can collect on the insurance money and the couple can run off together to a tropical island somewhere far away.

Phil eventually asks an acquaintance, Joe, at a local bar to contact Pam about the job; Joe meets with Pam and the murder is arranged. One night about a month later, Joe shoots Pam’s husband in a dark parking lot late at night.

Afterward, Joe takes his payment and flees town, and the police never connect him to the murder, however, detectives end up on Phil’s trail.

Even though Phil did not commit the murder, it was his idea and he did set Joe up with Pam. After some digging, the homicide detectives end up arresting Joe and charging him with accessory under Section 777.03 of the Florida Statutes.

Accessory Under Florida Law

Under Sec. 777.03 (1)(a) of the Florida Statutes, anyone who is not the spouse or otherwise related to the offender, who helps the offender commit a crime before the fact, is an accessory before the fact.

Or, if he or she knowing the offender committed a third degree felony, helped the offender avoid arrest, capture or trial, they would be an accessory after the fact.

Under Sec. 777 (1)(b), anyone who assists the offender before the fact, or gives the offender any help while knowing the offender committed child neglect, child abuse or aggravated child abuse, murder of a child, or aggravated manslaughter of a child, is an accessory, unless he or she was a victim of domestic violence.

Penalties for Assisting in a Crime

Generally, the penalties for being an “accessory” to a crime are less than those for the actual offense. For example, if the actual offense was a first degree felony, accessory would be charged as a second degree felony.

If the offense was a second degree felony, the person facing accessory charges would be accused of a third degree felony. Depending on the facts of the case, if the original offense was a third degree felony, the offense of being an accessory would be charged as either a third degree felony, or a misdemeanor of the first degree.

Accused of Being an Accessory in Tampa?

Are you being accused of offering advice or assistance, or otherwise helping someone commit a crime in Tampa, even though you were not present when the crime was committed? If you in any way contributed to the crime, or helped protect the offenders after the fact, you could be facing serious criminal charges.

If you are in this situation, we urge you to contact Thomas & Paulk, P.A. for a free criminal defense consultation!