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

When we think of criminal charges, many of us assume that we would have to actually commit 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 many ways this can happen, and below are just several such examples.

Someone can be accused of being an accessory to a crime by:

  • Coming up with the idea
  • Commanding someone else to commit the crime
  • Hiring someone to commit the crime
  • Instigating the commission of the crime
  • Giving advice on how to carry out the crime
  • 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.

An Example of Being an Accessory to a Felony

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 that Pam's husband has a $1,000,000 life insurance policy, Phil suggests that Pam hire a hitman to kill her husband so that she could collect on the insurance money, and the couple could 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 do 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 Phil and charging him with accessory under Section 777.03 of the Florida Statutes.

An Accessory Is Not an Accomplice

If someone is accused of being an accomplice to a crime in Florida, that means that they're being charged as someone who actually participated in a crime, someone who was at the scene. An accessory does not take part in the criminal act itself, nor were they at the scene of the crime.

Someone who would be an accomplice and not an accessory would be a getaway driver for a burglary. Even though this driver wasn't part of the breaking and entering part of the crime, nor were they the principal actor, they were still directly involved in the commission of the crime itself and were at the scene. An accessory to this burglary would be someone who knew about the plot and didn't notify the authorities, hid the burglars from the police in their house, destroyed evidence, or otherwise helped them avoid getting caught at any point.

Accessory Under Florida Law

Under Sec. 777.03(1)(a) of the Florida Statues, 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 they knew the offender committed a third-degree felony and they helped the offender avoid arrest, capture, or trial, then 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 they were themselves a victim of domestic violence.

Penalties for Being an Accessory to a Crime in Florida

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, a resulting accessory charge would be 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. However, if the original offense was a third-degree felony, depending on the facts of the case, the offense of being an accessory could sometimes be a third-degree felony and not a misdemeanor of the first degree.

What could these penalties specifically look like?

  • Felony of the 2nd Degree: A conviction could mean spending up to 15 years in prison and getting fined $10,000
  • Felony of the 3rd Degree: If convicted, this could mean up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine
  • Misdemeanor of the 1st Degree: A conviction could lead to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine

Accused of Being an Accessory in Tampa?

Are you being accused of offering advice, assistance, or otherwise helping someone commit a crime in Tampa? If you in any way are charged with contributing to the crime, or helping to protect the offenders after the fact, you could be facing serious criminal charges. It's critical to find powerhouse defenders before the prosecution gets any further along building a case against you. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we have successfully handled over 7,000 cases, and we fight to win.

If you are in this situation, we urge you to contact Thomas & Paulk, P.A. for a free criminal defense consultation! We are available 24/7 to help.

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