What is the Meaning of Accessory to Murder?
Accessory to murder is a criminal offense that entails a perpetrator or defendant helping or assisting a murderer. The accessory can offer assistance before or after the murder is committed. In most cases, the perpetrator is not present at the crime scene at the time of the murder. In most jurisdictions, accessory to murder is not a misdemeanor but a felony offense and can result in years in a state prison.
Accessory to murder before the fact is when the perpetrator helps the murderer before they commit the crime. For example, it includes actions like giving the murder a weapon knowing they would use it to harm someone else. This offense can attract the exact criminal charges as those of the principal offender who committed the murder. It could mean harsher punishments or penalties.
Helping a murderer after the commission of the crime includes actions like helping them to get away or hide after the fact. It also includes helping the offender destroy evidence or avoid detainment by the authorities. Accessory after a murder can attract up to fifteen years in prison, and the defendant will not be charged with the actual murder.
Is Being an Accessory to Murder a Crime?
Accessory to murder is a criminal offense that is also known as aiding or abetting a murder. However, there is usually some overlap of these terms, and here’s how they slightly differ:
- Abetting is the act of inciting, facilitating, encouraging, or inducing another person to commit a crime.
- Aiding is the act of supporting, assisting, or helping another person to commit a crime. Abetting and aiding refer to a single act.
- An accessory is a person who does any of the above things to support murder.
In most criminal codes, being an accessory to murder is charged as a felony. The culprit is charged depending on the degree of murder that the principal offender committed. When a person abets a crime, the person who receives help from the abettor is the principal offender.
In accessory cases, a person is only guilty of the crime if they knew about the crime. The defendant must have assisted in the murder with the knowledge that the primary offender:
- Was going to commit a crime
- Had committed a crime.
Definition of Murder
The law in most states defines murder as the act of killing a human being because of malice or malicious afterthought. In most jurisdictions, murder falls into two distinct categories:
- First-degree murder: This happens when an offender kills the victim deliberately, through premeditation, or lying in wait.
- Second-degree murder: It happens when an offender takes the life of another person through an intentional act but did not contemplate murder before committing the act.
Penalties for First-Degree Murder
First-degree murder is a capital offense in Florida, and it attracts only two possible sentences. The first one is death, and the other is a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, the state may waive the death penalty and elect life in prison instead.
Penalties for Second-Degree Murder
Second-degree murder in Florida is a first-degree felony that attracts a $10,000 fine, life on probation, or life in prison. The crime is assigned a level 10 offense severity under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.
It may also attract a 10-20-life mandatory prison statement. Here, the offender who uses a firearm to commit second-degree murder gets a minimum of 25 years in jail.
Defenses to Accessory to Murder
When charged with accessory to murder, a defendant can rightfully raise a legal defense. A defense that is most likely to work for them reasonably raises doubts on the filed charges. The three most common defenses to the crime are:
- The defendant acted under duress. This means that the principal offender forced the abettor to help them before or after the crime.
- The principal did not commit the crime.
- The abettor did not know that the first offender would commit a crime or had committed a crime.
Under Florida Statute 777.03(1)(a), a person cannot face charges as an accessory of murder after the fact if they are the principal offender’s spouse, child, grandparent, parent, grandchild, brother, or sister. However, an uncle, aunt, or cousin can face charges as an accessory after the fact. This is despite their blood relationship.
However, these people and others not related by blood or marriage can still have a few valid defenses to a charge of accessory after the fact. Some effective defenses are:
- Being a victim of domestic violence: For example, if the murder involves a defendant’s child, they can be granted leniency if they themselves were subjects of domestic violence in the hands of the principal offender.
- No duty to report: a person charged as an accessory to murder could be in a position where they have no duty to report illegal conduct to the authorities even in the full knowledge of the crime.
- Refusal to cooperate: A defendant cannot be convicted of being an accessory to the fact by refusing to cooperate with the authorities. They have a right to disavow knowledge of the crime or not cooperate with the investigation if they choose to.
It is always recommendable for people facing accessory to murder charges to seek legal advice from a violent crime lawyer. A skilled lawyer will help them determine the most suitable defense to use depending on the evidence presented. Furthermore, the attorney-client relationship protects the communications with a lawyer from the public domain.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been arrested and accused of being an accessory to murder, remember that the officers may use any statement you make against you. To protect yourself, get trusted legal representation to defend you. This is a serious charge and can result in heavy penalties or prison sentences.
A lawyer at Meltzer & Bell can defend you to help reduce the penalties or have the charges dropped altogether. Get in touch with us now to request a consultation and a free case assessment.