What Is Aiding and Abetting?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingMar 24, 2020

California Penal Code 31 PC aiding and abetting is a legal theory of how prosecutors can capture additional suspects in a criminal case beyond the principal actor. For instance, in a bar fight, two people attack two other people, and one person hits someone with a bottle, cutting their eye.

The man is charged with assault with a deadly weapon. His friend, who fought along with him, is accused of the same, as an aider and abettor. If you're fighting two other people and they agree to mutual combat, you might have a self-defense argument. 

However, the issue is going to be whether someone should have armed themselves with a bottle in that scenario. Is that reasonable, under the circumstances? The crime of “aiding and abetting” is defined under California Penal Code 31. This statute states:

  • “All people concerned in the commission of a crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor and whether they directly commit the offense, or aid and abet in its commission, or not being present, advised and encouraged its commission, and all people counseling, or encouraging children under the age of fourteen years, or people mentally incapacitated, to commit a crime, or by fraud, contrivance, or force another to cause him to commit any crime, or who by threats, menaces, command, or coercion, compel another to commit any crime, are principals in any crime committed.”

The penalties you face depend on which crime you're aiding and abetting (CALCRIM 401). If you're assisting and helping someone who is shooting a weapon at people, you're looking at being charged with attempted murder and receiving 15 years to life in prison.

Aiding and Abetting in California – Penal Code 31

Aiding and abetting itself is not a crime (CALCRIM 400). It is a theory by which the prosecutor can capture people for other crimes. If you're helping another person commit a crime, you're going to be responsible for that crime just as much as they are.

If another person shoots someone while robbing a gas station with a gun and you are the getaway driver, you will be responsible for that murder as well, as an aider and abettor (CALCRIM 1603). Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will explain in more detail below.

What If My Criminal Case Involves Other Defendants?

It would be much too complicated for prosecutors to try multiple defendants separately. If you're involved in a crime with someone else, you're both going to be arrested and prosecuted at the same time.

Often, they make offers to settle the co-defendant cases with a package deal, meaning both defendants have to take the offer or nobody gets the deal. They do that because it can be challenging to determine who is responsible.

Maybe they don't have all the information, so they don't want to be in a position where one person pleads guilty, and then that person comes back and tries to help the other person by taking responsibility. Once they have been punished, they don't have anything to lose. Prosecutors are going to make sure that they get both people simultaneously or that they make both people go to trial.

Statute of Limitations on An Aiding And Abetting

The statute of limitations depends on what the substantive crime is. The law of rules for robbery will apply when you're an aider and abettor to a theft. You're going to face the same statute of limitations as the person who committed the crime along with you. The law of rules will dictate how long the prosecutors have to charge a particular crime.

Most times, prosecutors will charge the case within a year of the commission of the offense. After one year, the defense may argue that too much time has passed, memories have faded, and witnesses are no longer available to challenge the prosecution's case.

There are occasions where the defense can argue that they can no longer defend the case. There are no witnesses available, or for any witnesses who might be available, their memories have faded because of the passage of time. Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County. Contact us for a free case review by phone or use our contact form.