Accessories and Principals

When An Accessory To A Crime Is Charged The Same As The Principal

When two or more people commit a crime, each person can be charged with the same crime. However, in Florida, if a person “aids or abets” another person in committing a crime, or even plays a minor role, that person can also be charged with the exact same crime. For example: I go into a home at night order to commit burglary, and I have my buddy be my lookout in case anyone comes by. If both of us get arrested, my buddy who just stood outside doing essentially nothing, can be charged as “principal”, and be held just as accountable as the guy who broke the window, grabbed the playstation and jewelry, stuffed them in a bag, then ran out the front door. Florida Statute §777.011 provides for liability as a Principal in the First Degree, Florida Statute:

777.011 Principal in first degree.

Florida law also allows a person to be charged with a crime as an accessory. This means that if a person provides assistance to the perpetrator of a crime either before or after a crime is committed, they can be held liable for the same crime. The distinction under this part of the statute is that the accused can be convicted of the same crime, but one degree less in severity (i.e. the burglar will be convicted of a second degree felony, the accessory would be convicted of a third degree felony). See, F.S. §777.03:

777.03 Accessory after the fact.

The problem with these statutes is that it is the State Attorney’s Office makes the decision if you should be charged as a principal or as an accessory. Oftentimes, a person arrested for a crime will falsely accuse someone of aiding them in committing the offense, or a person unknowingly helping a principal in a crime will face the same charge even though they did not even realize a crime was being committed. Being charged under any of these statutes can cause serious repercussions and an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist in preventing the filing of charges or exposing a defense. Call us and we can help.