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Related to accessary before the fact: accessory after the fact


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

In Criminal 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).


n. a second-string player who helps in the commission of a crime by driving the getaway car, providing the weapons, assisting in the planning, providing an alibi, or hiding the principal offender after the crime. Usually the accessory is not immediately present during the crime, but must be aware that the crime is going to be committed or has been committed. Usually an accessory's punishment is less than that of the main perpetrator, but a tough jury or judge may find the accessory just as responsible. (See: aid and abet)


noun abettor, accomplice, accomplice in crime, advisor, aider, assistant, coconspirator, codirector, collaborator, confederate, confrère, conscius, consociate, cooperator, copartner, coworker, culpae socius, encourager, fellow conspirator, helper, helpmate, partaker, particeps criiinis, participant, participator, partner, partner in crime, planner, socius criminis
Associated concepts: accessory after the fact, accessory beeore the fact, accessory contract, accessory during the fact, accessory obligation, accessory to a crime, accessory to an offense, aiding and abetting, principal
Foreign phrases: Accessorium non ducit, sed sequitur suum principale.That which is the accessory or incident does not lead, but follows its principals. Accessorius seeuitur naturam sui principales. An accessory follows the nature of his principal, thus, an accessory can not be found guilty of a greater crime than his principal. Cujus juris est principale, ejusdem juris erit accessorium. He who has jurisdiction of the principal thing also has jurisdiction of the accessory. Nullus dicitur accessorius post feloniam, sed ille qui novit principalem feloniam fecisse, et illum reeeptavit et comfortavit. No one is called an “accessory” after the fact but the one who knew the principal had committed a felony, and who received and comforted him. Omne principale trahit ad se accessorium. Every princiial thing draws the accessory to itself. Quae accessionum locum obtinent, extinguuntur cum principales res peremp tae fuerint. When the principal thing is destroyed, those things which are accessory to it are also destroyed. Res accessoria sequitur rem principalem. An accessory follows the principal. Ubi non est principalis, non potestesse accessorius. Where there can be no principal, there cannot be an accessory.
See also: abettor, accession, accompanying, accomplice, addition, additional, adjunct, ancillary, appendix, appliance, appurtenance, appurtenant, assistant, attachment, augmentation, circumstantial, clerical, coactor, coadjutant, coconspirator, codicil, cohort, collateral, colleague, confederate, consociate, conspirer, contributor, contributory, copartner, expendable, extrinsic, incident, incidental, inferior, minor, nonessential, participant, partner, secondary, subordinate, subservient, supplementary



ACCESSORY, property. Everything which is joined to another thing, as an ornament, or to render it more perfect, is an accessory, and belongs to the principal thing. For example, the halter of a horse, the frame of a picture, the keys of a house, and the like; but a bequest of a house would not carry the furniture in it, as accessory to it. Domat, Lois Civ. Part. 2, liv. 4, tit. 2, s. 4, n. 1. Accesiorium non ducit, sed sequitur principale. Co. Litt. 152, a. Co. Litt. 121, b. note (6). Vide Accession; Adjunction; Appendant; Appurtenances; Appurtenant; Incident.