New York residents who provide assistance or encouragement to individuals or groups who go on to commit crimes sometimes face prosecution on aiding and abetting charges. Accomplices sometimes face penalties as severe as those faced by the individuals who actually committed the crimes in question, but prosecutors must establish certain elements in aiding and abetting cases. The most significant hurdle that prosecutors must clear in these situations is proving that the assistance or encouragement provided to the perpetrator was given knowingly and willingly by the accomplice.
While individuals may sometimes be prosecuted as accomplices simply for not doing enough to prevent a crime, these cases are usually only prosecuted when assistance to criminals is provided by an overt act. Examples of aiding and abetting include providing criminals with firearms or breaking and entering equipment, acting as a lookout or driving a getaway vehicle, providing information about security systems or actually disarming alarms and leading crime victims into a trap or ambush.
Accomplices are sometimes confused with conspirators, but there are a number of important differences between the two types of criminal activity. Those who plan crimes with others are sometimes prosecuted even if the crime in question is never actually committed, and they may be charged as both conspirators and accomplices if they are involved in the planning of a crime and then provide assistance during its commission.
Police officers often focus their efforts on suspected accomplices because they often have little experience with law enforcement and may be more susceptible to the pressures of interrogation. Experienced criminal defense attorneys familiar with these tactics may urge their clients to be polite to police officers but to make no statements or admissions. Attorneys could take this approach to ensure that any assistance provided by their clients is properly rewarded during the quid pro quo of plea agreement negotiations.