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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

The difference between an accomplice and an accessory to murder

On Behalf of | Jan 5, 2023 | Homicide |

Being charged with the offense of accomplice or accessory to murder can be scary. However, it’s essential to understand the difference between the two legal terms. Here is a comprehensive look at accomplice and accessory to murder, including possible defenses.

What is considered an accessory to murder?

A person who aids a murder offender before or after the crime is referred to as an accessory to murder. They are never at the scene of the crime itself.

If someone charged with accessory to murder helped the primary offender before the crime took place and failed to notify relevant authorities after learning about the potential murder, the law considers them an accessory before the fact. Likewise, hiding or destroying evidence after knowing about the murder makes them an accessory after the fact.

Accessory to murder charges

An accessory to murder is charged based on the degree of the murder. However, a person may face similar charges to the principal offender if they were an accessory before the fact. They can receive a life sentence in prison or a death sentence for first-degree murder, life imprisonment for second-degree murder, and imprisonment of up to 15 years for third-degree murder.

Common defenses against accessory to murder charges

Someone accused of accessory to murder has the right to legal defense when facing such allegations. Some of the most common defenses for accessory to murder in Missouri include the following:

  • The defendant was unaware that the principal offender had committed murder or intended to commit one.
  • The principal offender didn’t commit the murder.
  • The accused acted under duress.
  • No murder occurred.

What is considered an accomplice to murder?

Facilitating or encouraging a person to commit murder can make someone an accomplice to the crime. An accomplice can facilitate the murder by providing the victim’s location despite knowing the offender’s intentions, or they can loan or provide the murder weapon.

It’s important to note that an accomplice differs from a conspirator. A conspirator is involved in the planning but does not help the principal offender commit the offense. They know about the intention to commit murder and agree with the plans.

Accomplice to murder charges

An accomplice to murder usually faces similar charges to principal offenders. Although they did not commit the crime, they were fully aware of the plan. If someone is an accomplice in a robbery where a victim was murdered, they will be charged for being an accomplice to both murder and robbery.

Common defenses against accomplice to murder charges

When accused of being an accomplice to murder, a criminal defense attorney can use the following defenses:

  • The accused did not intentionally participate in the murder.
  • The accused withdrew from the plans and tried to prevent the murder.
  • The accused assisted after the crime was committed.

Accusations of both accessory and accomplice to murder are serious charges, although the difference in defense and possible sentencing varies greatly as the level of involvement in the crime is not the same.