Define: Accessory

Quick Summary of Accessory

In legal terms, an accessory is an individual who assists or contributes to the commission of a crime without actually committing the crime themselves. Accessories are typically distinguished from principals, who directly perpetrate the crime, by their level of involvement. An accessory may aid, abet, counsel, or encourage the commission of a crime, but they do not actually commit the unlawful act. Depending on jurisdiction and the severity of their involvement, accessories may face criminal charges and penalties similar to those imposed on the principal offender. Accessories may also be held liable in civil proceedings for damages resulting from their involvement in the crime. The legal concept of accessoryship aims to deter individuals from facilitating criminal activities and to hold accountable those who knowingly contribute to unlawful conduct.

What is the dictionary definition of Accessory?
Dictionary Definition of Accessory

A person who voluntarily aids the principal person responsible for committing a crime.

legal A person who is not present at a crime but contributes to it as an assistant or instigator.

  1. Having a secondary, supplementary, or subordinate function by accompanying as a subordinate; aiding in a secondary way; being additional; being connected as an incident or subordinate to a principal; contributing or being contributory. Said of persons and things, and, when of persons, usually in a bad sense; as, he was accessory to the riot; accessory sounds in music.
  2. Assisting in a crime without actually participating in committing the crime itself.
  3. Present in a minor amount and is not essential.

n. a second-string player who helps in the commission of a crime by driving the getaway car, providing the weapons, assisting in the planning, providing an alibi, or hiding the principal offender after the crime. Usually, the accessory is not immediately present during the crime but must be aware that the crime is going to be committed or has been committed. Usually, an accessory’s punishment is less than that of the main perpetrator, but a tough jury or judge may find the accessory just as responsible.

Full Definition Of Accessory

Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime. For example, hiding a robber who is being sought by the police might make you an “accessory after the fact” to a robbery.

This term has essentially the same meaning as Accomplice: a person who assists in the perpetration or commission of an offence but is not the direct cause of the Actus Reus. At common law, it was possible to be an `accessory after the fact’, that is, to render assistance to offenders after the offence was committed. This meta of `accessory’ is not an `accomplice’ in the modern definition and is covered by different legislation.

In criminal law, contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime. One who, without being present at the commission of an offence, becomes guilty of such offence, not as a chief actor but as a participant, as by command, advice, instigation, or concealment, either before or after the fact or commission.

One who aids, abets, commands, or counsels another in the commission of a crime.

In common law, an accessory could not be found guilty unless the actual perpetrator was convicted. In most U.S. jurisdictions today, however, an accessory can be convicted even if the principal actor is not arrested or is acquitted. The prosecution must establish that the accessory in some way instigated, furthered, or concealed the crime. Typically, punishment for a convicted accessory is not as severe as that for the perpetrator.

An accessory must knowingly promote or contribute to the crime. In other words, she or he must aid or encourage the offence deliberately, not accidentally. The accessory may withdraw from the crime by denouncing the plans, refusing to assist with the crime, contacting the police, or trying to stop the crime from occurring.

An accessory before the fact is someone behind the scenes who orders a crime or helps another person commit it. Many jurisdictions now refer to accessories before the fact as parties to the crime or even accomplices. This substitution of terms can be confusing because accessories are fundamentally different from accomplices. Strictly speaking, whereas an accomplice may be present at the crime scene, an accessory may not. Also, an accomplice is generally considered to be as guilty of the crime as the perpetrator, whereas an accessory has traditionally received a lighter punishment.

An accessory after the fact is someone who knows that a crime has occurred but nonetheless helps to conceal it. Today, this action is often termed obstructing justice or harbouring a fugitive.

An infamous accessory after the fact was Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, the physician and Confederate sympathiser who set John Wilkes Booth’s leg after it was broken when the assassin jumped from President Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford Theatre. Despite Mudd’s protestation of innocence, he was tried and convicted as an accessory after the fact of Lincoln’s murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off Key West, Florida. President Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd in 1869, and the U.S. Congress gave him an official pardon in 1979.

Accessory FAQ'S

An accessory is someone who assists or contributes to the commission of a crime, either before or after the crime has been committed, without actually participating in the crime itself.

A principal is directly involved in the commission of a crime, while an accessory aids or facilitates the crime but does not actively participate in its commission.

Accessories can be classified as accessories before the fact (aiding or encouraging the crime before it is committed), accessories during the fact (assisting during the commission of the crime), or accessories after the fact (assisting or concealing the crime after it has been committed).

Penalties for being an accessory vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the crime. They may include fines, imprisonment, or both.

In some jurisdictions, an accessory may be charged with the same crime as the principal offender under the principle of accomplice liability.

Yes, an accessory can still be prosecuted even if the principal offender is not caught or prosecuted. The prosecution must prove that the accessory aided or facilitated the commission of the crime.

Aiding and abetting is a broader concept that encompasses assisting, encouraging, or facilitating the commission of a crime, while being an accessory before the fact specifically refers to aiding or encouraging the crime before it is committed.

Generally, a person cannot be charged as both a principal offender and an accessory to the same crime. However, they may face separate charges for different offenses related to the same criminal act.

The statute of limitations for being an accessory to a crime varies depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the offense. In many cases, there may be no statute of limitations for serious crimes.

Generally, knowledge of the criminal act is a key element in being charged as an accessory. If someone was unaware of the criminal act and did not knowingly aid or facilitate it, they are less likely to be charged as an accessory.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th April 2024.

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