California Penal Code 31 PC describes the crime of aiding and abetting as when someone facilitates or aids the commission of a criminal act.
In other words, it means to provide another person some type of assistance in committing a crime, by doing some act, or even saying something in the furtherance of illegal activity.
The legal concept of aiding and abetting refers to someone helping another commit a crime in some way as an accomplice.
When someone is deemed to aid and abet the commission of a crime, they can be treated and punished as if they were the principal actor of the crime.
The law operates this way because it considers multiple actors working together to commit a crime more dangerous than someone working on their own, and punishing everyone involved the same way aims to deter aiding and abetting.
PC 31 aiding and abetting is not crime in itself, rather a legal rule allowing prosecutors to file charges against participants in a crime.
For more detailed information, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are reviewing the laws below.
Definition of Aiding and Abetting
In California, the crime of aiding and abetting is defined under Penal Code 31 PC, which states:
- “All persons in the commission of a crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, directly commit the offense, or aid and abet in its commission, or not being present, advised and encouraged its commission, are principals to the crime so committed.”
Under this section, it is against the law to encourage, facilitate, or aid in the commission of a crime in any way.
For instance, aiding and abetting includes:
- acting as a “lookout,”
- assisting someone to obtain a weapon to commit a crime,
- concealing evidence of a crime, and
- giving a false alibi for someone you knew committed a crime.
Any act that helps another person to commit a crime could be illegal under PC 31. Prosecutors can charge you as an aider and abettor if you:
- aid, promote, or instigate a crime,
- encourage or facilitate a plan to commit a crime, or
- know of the perpetrator's illegal plan.
This statute says that anyone involved in the commission of any felony or misdemeanor offense is considered a principal actor of the crime, regardless of how insignificant a role was alleged to have been played.
Aiding and abetting is different from the crime of conspiracy, as, with conspiracy, there must be some prior agreement made to commit the crime in question.
Aiding and abetting can be properly charged simply for being involved in the commission of a crime in some minor way.
You do not have to be present at the scene of the crime, or even physically assist someone, to be arrested, charged and convicted under the theory of accomplice liability.
Example of aiding and abetting
For example, if Mike tells John that he's thinking about robbing a local convenience store.
Then, John responds by telling Mike how to turn off the security cameras if he decides to do it.
John can be properly charged with aiding abetting if Mike attempts to rob the store.
As you can see, there was no agreement or even guarantee that Mike would even attempt this robbery.
But John's voluntary assistance in giving Mike information to help him with the potential crime would be enough for an aiding and abetting charge.
Even with this minor involvement, John can be treated as the principal actor of the attempted robbery under an aiding and abetting theory.
Another example would include a situation where someone serves as a driver and lookout, while keeping the car engine running, while their accomplice enters a convenience store to rob it.
What are the Penalties for Aiding and Abetting?
Generally, the penalties as an aider and abettor can mirror the penalties as the main actor in a criminal offense.
If you are convicted as an aider and abettor of a crime, you will be considered a principal actor in the offense and face the same punishment that the person who actually committed the crime.
As an aider and abettor, you can also be held criminally responsible for any other crimes that are foreseeable in the commission of the crime itself.
Continuing the above example, if Mike robbed the convenience store, and during his escape, he shot and killed someone, then both Mike and John can be held responsible for felony murder.
What Are the Best Defenses to PC 31 Aiding and Abetting?
Given how little is required to charge someone with an aiding and abetting a crime, several defenses can be raised by our criminal defense lawyers.
If you are charged as an aider and abettor under Penal Code 31 PC in California, we may assert many defenses, including:
- mere presence – just because you were at the scene of the crime doesn't mean you were involved;
- withdrawal from participation – you took some steps to withdraw and prevent the criminal activity before it occurred;
- you did not encourage or aid in committing a crime – you may not have been aware of the plan to commit a crime;
- false accusation – you did not encourage, aid, or facilitate the commission of the crime in question;
Lack of participation
We might be able to show you did nothing to encourage, aid, or facilitate the commission of the crime. Perhaps you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and that simply being present is not enough evidence to prove criminal intent.
Withdraw from participating
We might be able to argue you withdrew from participating in the criminal activity.
Perhaps you notified the other person actually involved in the committing the crime you had intent to withdraw and did everything within your power to prevent the crime going forward.
Accessory after the fact
We might also be to raise an “accessory after the fact” defense if you did not help the commission of the crime but helped the perpetrator after the crime was completed.
Accessory after the fact is an offense under California Penal Code 32 PC that is less serious than aiding and abetting and could prove useful in specific situations.
In other words, being an accessory after the fact is a reduced charge with lesser penalties as being an accomplice to a crime.
Through prefiling intervention, we might be able to enter into negotiations with the police detectives and the prosecutor in an attempt to avoid the formal filing on criminal charges before the case ever reaches the courtroom.
If you have questions about being charged with Penal Code 31 PC, you should speak to our criminal lawyers to review the details.
Eisner Gorin LLP has decades of success defending all serious misdemeanor or felony crimes in California.
Contact us at (877) 781-1570 for an immediate consultation.