If someone has committed a crime which you were not directly involved in carrying out, can you still be charged with the offence?
The answer is yes – if you fulfill the requirements for being considered an ‘accessory’ to the crime.
Here, we discuss what the law says about being an accessory to a crime.
What is an Accessory to a Crime?
The Queensland Criminal Code Act (1899) states that a person can be charged in the same indictment as the principal offender if they:
- Counseled or procured another person to commit an offence
- Aided another person in committing an offence
- Did or omitted to do any act for the purpose of enabling or aiding another person to commit the offence
- Became an accessory to an offence after the fact
For example, if your friend decides to rob a service station, and you were found to have driven them there knowing that the crime would be committed, the court can charge you with being an accessory to the robbery.
If you have aided or abetted a person in committing a crime, you will likely fall into one of the following categories:
Accessory Before the Fact
A person is considered an accessory before the fact if they knowingly assisted the principal offender prior to the offence. For example, they may have given advice on how to commit the crime, or provided items which they knew would be used in the crime.
It is worth noting that simply knowing in advance that another person was going to commit a crime does not make you an accessory to the crime; instead you have to have actively aided or abetted them in committing the crime.
Accessory After the Fact
An accessory after the fact is someone who was not directly involved in planning or carrying out the offence, but who intentionally assisted the principal offender after the offence occurred.
This could include helping the principal offender escape after the crime, or hiding evidence of the crime (i.e. hiding a body to assist a murderer in evading detection).
How Are Accessories to a Crime Prosecuted?
If you are found to be an accessory to a crime, serious penalties can apply. Section 57 of the Queensland Criminal Code Act (1899) states that:
A person who becomes an accessory after the fact to an indictable offence punishable by mandatory life imprisonment is liable, if no other punishment is provided, to life imprisonment.
A person who becomes an accessory after the fact to an indictable offence punishable by life imprisonment but not mandatory life imprisonment is liable, if no other punishment is provided, to 14 years imprisonment.
A person who becomes an accessory after the fact to any other indictable offence or a simple offence is liable, if no other punishment is provided, to a punishment equal to one-half of the greatest punishment to which an offender convicted of the offence is liable.
This means that if you are found to be an accessory after the fact in a murder case, you could receive a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The severe sentences that can accompany being an accessory to a crime mean that you should avoid ever being pressured into conduct which could make you an accessory before or after the fact.
Need Legal Help with Accessory to a Crime?
If you believe you may be charged with being an accessory to a crime, you should seek legal advice immediately.
At Guest Lawyers, our expert criminal lawyers offer free consultations to provide preliminary legal advice. We will assess your situation and the possibilities of you being charged with being an accessory to a crime, devise a legal strategy accordingly and act on your behalf should the matter appear before court.
We have a lawyer on call 24 hours per day, who is always ready to provide you with relevant and important advice. Please get in touch to speak to one of our team members and discuss how we can help.