Being complicit in a crime and being an accomplice are the same thing. In legal terms, “complicity” is when you encourage or help someone to commit a crime. Another interchangeable term for complicity is “aiding and abetting.” Both terms define how someone aids someone else in committing a crime. When you are someone who is complicit in a crime, that also makes you an accomplice.
An accomplice is not the person who commits a crime, but the crime could not have happened without their help. The law uses the the label of “accomplice” to hold the person who aids in a crime to the same standards of prosecution and guilt as the person who actually committed the crime. If you help someone commit a crime or hide someone from prosecution, then you may be liable to the same punishment and penalties as if you committed the crime yourself, including and not limited to jail time.
The best criminal attorney will tell you that the determining factor for being an accomplice is if the individual either voluntarily or intentionally assisted the criminal in their criminal act or even, in some instances, if they failed to prevent someone from committing a crime.
What are the elements of an accomplice and what is their liability?
Depending on the state where the crime occurs the prosecution must be capable of proving four various elements for a conviction of aiding, abetting, or being an accomplice to a criminal act. Although they vary, they are typically:
- The crime was actually committed by someone other than the accomplice
- The person accused either encouraged, aided, commanded, or counseled someone into committing a crime
- The accomplice knew about the crime and had an intention to act in the commission of it
What are some examples of complicity?
Being complicit is a very specific legal term. There are many ways that a person can be an accomplice to a crime. These are some examples of when someone is complicit in the commission of a crime:
- They drive a getaway car that allows the criminal to escape
- Turning off an alarm to allow a criminal, gain entry
- Lending someone a firearm when you know what their intentions for use are and it ends in a crime
- Directing someone to a dangerous area so that they can be robbed by someone you know
What is the difference between conspiracy and complicity?
When you are an accomplice, you don’t directly help in the crime. When you are a part of a conspiracy, you actually play a part in the crime itself. Someone who conspires in a crime with others, plots and plans the crime, while someone who is an accomplice is involved indirectly in the crime act itself. If someone is conspiring in a criminal act, they may be held liable for just the plotting, even if the crime is never played out.
For example, if you know that your local bank has a vulnerability at the back entrance and help make a plan to rob the bank, you are conspiring. If you make a plan and plot a criminal act, that is a crime in and of itself. Whether the crime is committed and the act is played out or not makes no difference. You can still be charged with a conspiracy crime for just planning the criminal act alone.
If you are an accomplice, you can only be legally liable if the crime is carried out. If you had the intention to aid or abet, you are only guilty if the crime was initiated and you helped. As opposed to being a conspirator, a criminal act must be committed for you to be held legally liable as an accomplice.
That is why it is important that, if you know that someone is about to commit a crime, you don’t get involved in any way. Also, even talking about a criminal act, or planning a way to accomplishing it, could land you in trouble. The truth is that not only is the criminal of any crime liable, but so too is anyone who knowingly either helped, aided, encouraged, or planned and plotted.