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Aiding and Abetting
At law, an accomplice is a person who actively participates in the commission of a crime, even though they take no part in the actual criminal offence. For example, in a bank robbery, the person who points the gun at the teller and asks for the money is guilty of armed robbery. However, anyone else directly involved in the commission of the crime, such as the lookout or the getaway car driver, is an accomplice, even though in the absence of an underlying offence keeping a lookout or driving a car would not be an offence.
An accomplice differs from an accessory in that an accomplice is present at the actual crime, and could be prosecuted even if the main criminal (the principal) is not charged or convicted. An accessory is generally not present at the actual crime, and may be subject to lesser penalties than an accomplice or principal.
In older sources, an accomplice was often referred to as an abettor. This term is not in active use, having been replaced by accomplice.
At law, an accomplice has the same degree of guilt as the person he or she is assisting, is subject to prosecution for the same crime, and faces the same criminal penalties. As such, the three accomplices to the bank robbery above can also be found guilty of armed robbery even though only one stole the money.
The fairness of the doctrine that the accomplice is as guilty as the primary offender has been discussed many times, particularly in cases of capital crimes. On several occasions, accomplices have been prosecuted for felony murder even though the actual person who committed the murder died at the crime scene or otherwise did not face capital punishment.
One of the most notorious cases of this type was the 1952 case in England involving Derek Bentley, a mentally-challenged man who was in police custody when his sixteen-year-old companion, Christopher Craig, shot and killed a police officer during a botched break-in (News Report ). Craig was sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure, since as a juvenile offender he could not be sentenced to death (he was released after serving ten years), but Bentley was hanged. The incident was dramatized in the film Let Him Have It, which is what Bentley allegedly said to Craig during the incident, it being unclear whether he meant for Craig to shoot the officer, or to surrender the gun. The hanging of Bentley led to public outrage and the eventual abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom.