Under some circumstances, Michigan law can hold you jointly responsible for someone else’s actions. Helping someone else commit a crime or avoid punishment after committing one can lead to criminal charges of aiding and abetting or being an accessory after the fact.
Penalties for aiding and abetting
Defendants charged with aiding and abetting face the same punishment as the actual perpetrator. For example, helping another person commit a burglary will get you the same penalties as committing that burglary yourself.
Elements for conviction
To get a conviction on aiding and abetting charges, prosecutors must first prove several elements. First, they need to show that another person actually committed the crime. Then they need to demonstrate that the accused actively helped commit the crime while knowing that his or her actions would further the crime and intending for the crime to happen.
For example, if prosecutors prove the accused gave another person information that led to a burglary, the case could go several ways, depending on whether the accused knew or should reasonably have known how the burglar would use the information. On the other hand, just being at the scene of a crime does not make someone an accomplice. Sometimes, people find themselves facing charges simply because they were passengers in a car whose driver commits a DUI.
Difference between aiding and abetting and accessory after the fact
Accessory after the fact is a closely related but distinct charge which you can face based on accusations that you helped a criminal avoid punishment. In this scenario, you do not need to have known about the crime beforehand. Prosecutors must show that you helped the criminal escape from prosecution after you knew of the crime. You can face conviction even if the actual criminal pleads out or is acquitted.
Why you should take these charges seriously
Especially in drug cases, prosecutors may attempt to use aiding and abetting charges to bring in as many people as possible. Defending such a case involves many complex legal and factual issues. If you face charges based on another person’s actions, you cannot just wait for everything to go away once law enforcement officers realize you did not do anything. This rarely happens. Instead, take action by retaining a strong and knowledgeable defense attorney.