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What is Aiding and Abetting in California?

Posted by Alan Eisner | Sep 21, 2017

California Penal Code 31 PC – Aiding and Abetting
California Penal Code 31 “aiding and abetting” charges means you are being accused of helping someone commit a crime.

Are you facing aiding and abetting charges in Los Angeles? What exactly does this mean? In some cases, you could get charged with a crime you didn't actually physically commit. Aiding and abetting charges are covered under California Penal Code Section 31.

In basic terms, “aiding and abetting” means you are being accused of helping someone commit a crime. Even if you did not have any participation in the actual crime itself, a criminal charge of aiding and abetting can be filed against you for directly providing assistance to another person committing a crime.

A criminal prosecution for aiding and abetting is commonly known as being an accomplice, which is the act of being criminally complicit.

The theory behind aiding and abetting is that if you helped someone commit a crime, you are just as guilty as the individual who physically committed the offense.

In Los Angeles County, there are many common cases where the prosecutor will pursue aiding and abetting charges.

For example, if two individuals decide to rob a convenience store and one of them walks in the store, pulls out a weapon and demands all their money, while the other individual sits in the getaway car, both of them can be held equally responsible for the robbery.

However, the prosecutor will need to be able to prove the driver knew his buddy intended to rob the store and they were waiting for him to come out to drive him away for the scene.

If you have been accused of aiding and abetting, it's critical that you do not make any statements to Los Angeles police detectives.

It's possible you might incriminate yourself and everything you say can be used against you later in court. Politely decline to answer any questions without consulting with an attorney.

Next, you should contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP. Our top-rated attorneys will closely examine the specific details to start building an effective defense strategy.

We have discussed the basic meaning on aiding and abetting above, now let's examine the legal definition below.

California Penal Code Section 31 – Aiding and Abetting

Under aiding and abetting laws in California, you can be held liable if you facilitate or aid someone in the commission of a crime. Likewise, you could also face the same legal penalties as the person who directly committed the crime. California Penal Code Section 31 legally defines aiding and abetting as:

  • All persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, and whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense, or aid and abet in its commission, or not being present, have advised and encouraged its commission, are  principals in any crime so committed.

Aiding and abetting is not a separate crime, but provides Los Angeles County prosecutors a way to charge anyone who was part of the crime, even though they didn't directly participate. There does not have to be a prior agreement to commit the crime, you could face aiding and abetting charges just for your voluntary involvement.

It means you are accused of providing some type of assistance in the commission of a crime, by saying or doing something to further criminal conduct. The language “aid and abet in its commission” means you were an accomplice to the crime other than actual perpetrator.

By law, “accomplice” means you actively participated, even though you did not take part in the actual criminal offense.

Another common example in Los Angeles County is a situation where one individual keeps a “lookout” position while another individual commits an armed robbery. Just witnessing a crime in progress does not make you a subject for criminal prosecution.

Call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our law firm for more information. 

Elements of an Aiding an Abetting Crime

In order to be convicted of aiding and abetting, the Los Angeles County prosecutor has to be able to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, certain elements of the crime. These elements include: 

  • You knew the perpetrator's plan to commit a crime;
  • Before or during the crime, you intended to provide assistance, aid or encouragement to commit the crime;
  • Your actions or encouragement did provide aid to the perpetrator actually committing the crime.

It's important to make note that while the legal language might make it appear that you have to aid or encourage a criminal offense in advance, this is not always true.

If you were in a situation where the crime was being committed, even with no prior knowledge, and at that moment you encourage, aid, or facilitate the crime, you could still be found guilty for being an accomplice. You DO NOT have to be present at the crime scene to be convicted of aiding and abetting.

The key question is whether you in any way, either directly or indirectly, provided aid to the perpetrator in the form of encouragement or actions.

See related information: Accessory After the Fact Laws in California.

Legal Penalties for Aiding and Abetting Conviction

Under California law, you could face the exact same legal penalties for aiding and abetting as the person who actually committed the crime. If you aid and abet another individual during a crime, you could be referred to what is commonly known as an accessory before the fact.

There is no individual distinction between and accomplice and the actual perpetrator.

Therefore, if you are convicted of aiding and abetting under California Penal Code Section 31, you will be regarded as a principle to the offense and will be subjected to the same legal consequences as if you committed the crime. 

See related information: What is a Criminal Conspiracy?

Legal Defenses Against Aiding and Abetting Charges

Aiding and abetting charges are typically used when the Los Angeles County prosecutor wants to charge you with a serious criminal offense. An experienced Los Angles criminal defense attorney at our law firm could use a wide range of legal defenses against the accusation that you assisted or encouraged the commission of a crime. These legal defenses include: 

  • No Participation – If our criminal lawyers can show you did nothing to encourage, aid, or facilitate in the commission of the crime, you can't be guilty of aiding and abetting. An example could be where you are a passenger in car with friends and the driver stops and robs a convenience store while you stay in the car. You were not aware of their plan and did nothing to help them commit the robbery. We could argue you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and that simply being present is not sufficient evidence to prove intent. 
  • Withdraw From Participation – In some cases, it may be possible for our criminal attorneys to show you withdrew from participating in the criminal activity. This includes situations where you notified the other individual actually involved in the crime you were withdrawing and did everything in your power to prevent the crime from going forward. 
  • False Accusation – Since aiding and abetting charges don't require physical evidence, it's not uncommon for someone to be falsely accused. The most common example is where the actual perpetrator is attempting to divert or minimize their own criminal activity by pointing fingers at you. 

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a family member has been accused of aiding and abetting, you need to call the Los Angeles criminal defense law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP as soon as possible.

Our lawyers have over five decades of combined experience and have developed effective defense strategies and have the skills to defend you against aiding and abetting charges.  We provide a free immediate response. Call our law office at 877-781-1570. 

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About the Author

Alan Eisner

Alan Eisner  Van Nuys, California (818) 781-1570 (818) 788-5033 Email Me  Alan Eisner has practiced criminal law for over 28 years in Los Angeles County . Mr Eisner is a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. (The California State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization has designated Mr. Eisner as a...

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