views updated Jun 27 2018


Aiding or contributing in a secondary way or assisting in or contributing to as a subordinate.

Incriminal law, contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime. One who, without being present at the commission of an offense, becomes guilty of such offense, not as a chief actor, but as a participant, as by command, advice, instigation, or concealment; either before or after the fact or commission.

One who aids, abets, commands, or counsels another in the commission of a crime.

In common law, an accessory could not be found guilty unless the actual perpetrator was convicted. In most U.S. jurisdictions today, however, an accessory can be convicted even if the principal actor is not arrested or is acquitted. The prosecution must establish that the accessory in some way instigated, furthered, or concealed the crime. Typically, punishment for a convicted accessory is not as severe as that for the perpetrator.

An accessory must knowingly promote or contribute to the crime. In other words, she or he must aid or encourage the offense deliberately, not accidentally. The accessory may withdraw from the crime by denouncing the plans, refusing to assist with the crime, contacting the police, or trying to stop the crime from occurring.

An accessory before the fact is someone behind the scenes who orders a crime or helps another person commit it. Many jurisdictions now refer to accessories before the fact as parties to the crime or even accomplices. This substitution of terms can be confusing because accessories are fundamentally different from accomplices. Strictly speaking, whereas an accomplice may be present at the crime scene, an accessory may not. Also, an accomplice generally is considered to be as guilty of the crime as the perpetrator, whereas an accessory has traditionally received a lighter punishment.

An accessory after the fact is someone who knows that a crime has occurred but nonetheless helps to conceal it. Today, this action is often termed obstructing justice or harboring a fugitive.

An infamous accessory after the fact was Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, the physician and Confederate sympathizer who set John Wilkes Booth's leg after it was broken when the assassin jumped from President Abraham Lincoln's box at Ford Theater. Despite Mudd's protestation of innocence, he was tried and convicted as an accessory after the fact in Lincoln's murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off Key West, Florida. President andrew johnson pardoned Mudd in 1869, and the U.S. Congress gave him an official pardon in 1979.

further readings

Berg, Alan. 1996. "Accessory Liability For Breach of Trust." Modern Law Review 59 (May): 443-453.

Blakey, Robert G., and Kevin P. Roddy. 1996. "Reflections on Reves v. Ernst & Young: Its Meaning and Impact On Substantive, Accessory, Aiding Abetting and Conspiracy Liability Under RICO." American Criminal Law Review 33: 1345-1702.

Huett, Lisa. 2001. "Could You Be an Accessory? Uncertainty and Risk For Lawyers." Law Institute Journal 75 (March).


views updated May 18 2018

ac·ces·so·ry / akˈses(ə)rē/ • n. (pl. -ries) 1. a thing that can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive: bathroom accessories. ∎  a small article or item of clothing carried or worn to complement a garment or outfit: hair accessories such as rhinestone-studded barrettes.2. Law someone who gives assistance to the perpetrator of a crime, without directly committing it, sometimes without being present: an accessory to murder.• adj. chiefly technical contributing to or aiding an activity or process in a minor way: functionally the maxillae are a pair of accessory jaws.PHRASES: accessory before (or after) the fact Law , dated a person who incites or assists someone to commit a crime (or knowingly aids someone who has committed a crime).


views updated May 23 2018

accessory. Element in a composition inessential (unlike an accompaniment) to the use or character of the building, but which enhances it.


views updated Jun 08 2018

accessory In law, person associated with a criminal act. An accessory before the fact consults, encourages and advises the criminal. An accessory after the fact is one who, with knowledge of a crime, receives or assists the criminal.