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  • Jim Schroeder

The Company You Keep: Accessory to a Crime

Mom and Dad told you the company you keep matters. But you didn't believe them and you got yourself in trouble. It happened so fast, even innocently yet here you find yourself being questioned downtown as an accessory to a crime. How did you get here?


Criminal law throws us plenty of curveballs, especially if we form our opinions based on what we see in procedural dramas such as CSI and Law and Order that attempt to give us insight into the American criminal justice system. There is one crime that leaves us utterly perplexed as to its meaning, and no Hollywood production can enlighten us enough to make sense of the criminal charge.

The criminal charge is called “accessory to a crime.”

Overview of Accessory to a Crime

Diving into the vast amount of Internet resources does not offer a precise meaning of the criminal charge “Accessory to a crime.” What we’ll get are several explanations that when melded together, give us the following legal definition of the criminal charge:

Accessory to a crime happens when a suspect “knowingly and voluntarily” participates in committing a crime. The criminal charge applies to any phase of the crime from the planning stage, like developing the timeline for a home invasion to driving the getaway vehicle after a bank robbery.

For an “accessory to a crime” criminal charge, the suspect does not have to be present when the crime is taking place.

Accomplice Versus Accessory

The previous sentence is an essential legal component when defining the criminal charge of accessory to a crime. As opposed to an accessory, an accomplice to a crime actively helps another person commit a crime, whether the crime is shoplifting at a convenience store or setting fire to a government building.

Because an accomplice intentionally helps another criminal commit the crime, he or she shares the same legal liability and criminal punishment. Because of the active participation of an accomplice, the criminal charges are typically more severe than the criminal charges faced by an accessory.

Digging Deeper into What Constitutes an Accessory

Let’s go back to the bank robbery scenario to define the primary difference between an accomplice and an accessory. While an accomplice stands inside the bank to rob it, an accessory can plan the heist and/or sit outside, waiting for the bank robber to jump into the car and flee the scene. This means an accessory’s role is either before or after events of the commission of a crime. It may also be both before and after.

Accessory before a Crime

An accessory before a crime typically aids, abets, assists, incites, and/or encourages the principal criminal. He or she can be the person who plans the logistics of a crime, as well as pays a criminal a set amount of money to carry out a crime.

Accessory after a crime

We already used the example of a getaway driver. Which other ways does someone act as an accessory after the commission of a crime? He or she may provide shelter to hide a criminal, give relief in the form of first aid or financial assistance.

Accessory to a Crime in Ohio

Ohio criminal statutes further narrow the definition of an accessory to a crime charge. Two sections of the Ohio legal code address complicity and accessory after the fact.

Section 2923.03 Complicity

(A) No person, acting with the kind of culpability required for the commission of an offense, shall do any of the following:

(1) Solicit or procure another to commit the offense;

(2) Aid or abet another in committing the offense;

(3) Conspire with another to commit the offense in violation of section 2923.01 of the Revised Code;

(4) Cause an innocent or irresponsible person to commit the offense.

Section 5924.78 Accessory after the Fact

“Any person subject to this code who, knowing that an offense punishable by this code has been committed, receives, comforts, or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent the offender’s apprehension, trial, or punishment shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

There is one interesting facet to Ohio law when it comes to an accessory to a crime charge. A crime does not have to be committed for someone to face an accessory charge. Let’s say a suspect provided a gun and a getaway car for a bank robber, but the robbery never took place. The person that aided and abetted the bank robber to commit the crime may still face an accessory charge, even though the crime never happened.

Remember when your parents warned you about the company you keep? They had their reasons!

James Schroeder is an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia focusing on real estate, estate planning, business and nonprofit law. He maintains offices in Sardinia Ohio and Egg Harbor City New Jersey. You may reach him at (973) 886-4563 or (609) 270-7590. Most of his clients come from Sardinia, Mount Orab, Georgetown, Russellville, West Union, Peebles and Seaman in Ohio and Egg Harbor City, Hammonton, Port Republic, Galloway and Mullica Township in New Jersey but if you are from anywhere in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia can call to discuss your legal issues.

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