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What does "aiding and abetting" mean under Florida law?

People can have different degrees of involvement in crimes. Consider a scenario in which a group of people participates in various ways in robbing a jewelry store. One person pretends to be a customer before the event, and determines what kind of security the store has. Another commits the actual robbery. A third drives that person to and from the scene of the crime. And a fourth learns of the robbery after it has been committed and offers to provide a "safe house" where the robber can hide from police. What does the law have to say about their different levels of involvement?

It used to be that the law made distinctions between people who were "principals" and "aiders and abettors" and "accessories" before and after the fact, but today in Florida the distinctions are easier to make. By statute, anyone who either actually commits a crime or helps to commit it is now a "principal in the first degree" to it. In our example above, the first three people -- the scout, the robber and the getaway driver -- are all considered to be equally culpable of the crime even though only one of them actually held up the jewelry store. But what about the fourth person, the one who helped afterwards?

That individual is what Florida law refers to as an "accessory after the fact." There can be different kinds of accessories after the fact, depending on the underlying criminal act (for example, child abuse or a capital crime are treated differently from other crimes when it comes to the possible criminal penalty that the accessory after the fact may be subject to. But what about the fourth person, the one who helped afterwards? That individual is what Florida law refers to as an "accessory after the fact." There can be different kinds of accessories after the fact, depending on the underlying criminal act (for example, child abuse or a capital crime are treated differently from other crimes when it comes to the possible criminal penalty that the accessory after the fact may be subject to.

The Florida statutes in question can be complicated to make sense of, and contain terms such as "accessory before the fact" that can be confusing. This post is only intended as an overview of how Florida treats those who help to commit the crime versus those who assist a principal to the crime afterward. It is not meant to substitute for legal advice if you have been charged with a crime, in which case you should seek the assistance of legal counsel experienced with Florida criminal defense.

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