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Understanding the Difference Between an Accomplice and an Accessory

Even if you didn’t directly participate in or plan a crime, you could still be liable for what happens during the commission of the crime. The main person carrying out a crime is typically known as a principal. Others who help the principal before, during, or after the criminal act are typically known as accomplices or accessories.

Defining Accessory

It’s important to note that Maine law does not use the term “accessory” in criminal law. Under the Maine Criminal Code, someone who is complicit or cooperative in the execution or commission of a crime is an accomplice. Another relevant term used is “criminal conspiracy,” but again, the term “accessory” is not used. This term is used in other municipalities, so it may come up if you’re facing federal charges—if your charges are in Maine, you will not see the term accessory.

Defining Accomplice

Section 57 of the Maine Criminal Revised Statutes defines a criminal accomplice. To be an accomplice, an individual must promote or facilitate the commission of a crime by asking someone else to carry out a crime, helping someone else plan the crime, or assisting in the commission of the crime. Even if the original intent was only to assist in one criminal action, the accomplice may be responsible for any additional reasonably foreseeable crimes. For example, if an accomplice helps someone plan a burglary and the burglar kills the homeowners while carrying out the crime, the accomplice may also be charged as an accomplice to manslaughter or homicide—it all depends on whether or not the prosecutor can prove that the killings were a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the burglary.

There are other circumstances in which one may be accountable for another’s crimes, even if they are not explicitly considered an accomplice. If someone is legally accountable for another person, they may be liable for the crime committed by the other person.

When You Cannot Be An Accomplice

Under Maine law, there are certain situations where someone cannot be considered an accomplice of a crime. These include:

  • When the individual is the victim of the crime
  • The legal definition of the crime requires the individual’s cooperation
  • The person stops being complicit before the crime is executed

What About Criminal Conspiracy?

Section 151 of the Maine Criminal Revised Statutes defines criminal conspiracy. Agreeing to carry out a crime with one or more other people constitutes criminal conspiracy. If an individual agrees to carry out a crime with one person and knows that the other person has agreed or will agree to carry out the crime with a third person, the first person is considered in agreement with the third person, regardless of whether or not they communicate directly. For a conspiracy charge to stick, the individual or the person they conspired with must make a substantial step to actually commit the crime.  Additionally, the co-conspirators are all responsible for any crimes committed by members of the conspiracy for the purpose of furthering the conspiracy and that were reasonably foreseeable.  That means that a co-conspirator could be liable for a murder committed during a home invasion, even if you, the co-conspirator, did not enter the home with the intent of committing a murder.  

Conspiracy is a fairly complicated crime, as the severity of it depends largely on which crime or crimes you conspire to commit. Similarly, possible defenses vary, based on the offenses committed and the laws defining each offense.

Have you been accused of a crime? A conviction could completely change the course of your life, so don’t rely on your innocence or DIY defense methods to save you. Contact Maine Criminal Defense Group at 207-571-8146 to talk about your case.


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