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Aiding and Abetting a Criminal: Read This Before You Decide to Help a Texas Fugitive!

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Think very carefully before you decide to help another person commit a crime in Texas.

Criminal law is intended to prevent and punish conduct that society wants to eradicate. Aiding and abetting laws in Texas extend the law by recognizing that when an individual assists another in the commission or concealment of a crime, he or she should be punished. Even though the individual might not have been involved in committing the criminal act, he or she may face possible jail time.

Aiding and Abetting Laws in Texas

Texas Penal Code Chapter 7 holds an individual liable for criminal actions committed by someone else. Texas aiding and abetting laws diminish or abolish the difference between the principal criminal actor and the accomplice.

For example, if you provide another person with a gun knowing that he or she plans to use it in the commission of a robbery, you risk being charged with an act of robbery once it occurs.

Aiding and abetting another party’s commission of a crime might include:

  • Failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent another person from committing a criminal act
  • Failure to report the commission of a crime under “mandatory reporter status” (or alert law enforcement to a potential commission of a crime)
  • Agreeing to purchase a firearm for another party to use in the commission of a crime
  • Providing aid to another person who desires to engage in the commission of a crime
  • Aiding another party in the commission of a crime
  • Attempting to help another person in the commission of a crime
  • Directing another party to commit a crime
  • Encouraging another person to commit a crime
  • Soliciting another party to commit a criminal act

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Prohibited Actions and Contact

Texas law makes it a crime to knowingly or willingly aid or assist another person in the committing of a crime. There are many types of conduct an individual might engage in that may result in his or her being charged with a crime that was committed by another person, including:

  • Agreeing to hide an individual wanted by law enforcement
  • Driving someone else to the location where he or she will commit a crime, or from the location at which the crime was committed—don’t ever agree to serve as the getaway driver.
  • Receiving property that was stolen by another party to hide it from confiscation by the police
  • Providing information, funds, or equipment to aid another party’s concealment or commission of a crime
  • Lying to law enforcement in order to prevent their discovery of the individual who committed a crime

It’s possible to be charged with aiding and abetting a crime—even if you don’t know the location of which the crime is being committed (or was committed). You may also be charged for providing assistance to another party who commits a crime—whether it’s before, after, or during the commission of a criminal act. For example, the decision to loan your car or truck to someone who plans to use it in the commission of a crime or in evading the police after it’s committed.

Texas Penal Code Section 7.01

Texas law says that a person may be legally responsible for another person’s criminal activity if he or she assisted in the commission of the crime. Unfortunately, a person who helps another individual in his or her effort to commit a crime might be deemed liable for an action or actions he or she can’t imagine.

Section 7.01 of the Texas Penal Code applies to crimes such as:

  • Failure to report
  • Accessory after the fact
  • Harboring a fugitive
  • Aiding/abetting a fugitive

Let’s imagine that Jill is Jack’s girlfriend. Jack confides to Sally that he plans to rob a bank so that they can get married and live happily ever after. Jill agrees to buy a rifle to Jack, loans him a car to get to the bank, and plans to provide him with food and shelter after he commits the crime “until the coast is clear.” They laugh at the idea of Jack “being on the lam” before he drives away in Jill’s vehicle.

After he arrives at the bank, Jack accidentally shoots a security officer guarding the vault and kills him. Although Jill didn’t encourage Jack to kill the security guard—and she didn’t realize Jack could kill anyone—both Jack and Jill might face murder charges. Jill could also be charged as an accessory to the crime because she gave Jack a gun to commit the crime.

Unfortunately, Jack and Jill are in a deadly serious situation now. Jack thought it would be easy to rob the bank and Jill agreed to help. Both need to engage an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Legal defense strategies

Jill’s criminal defense attorney will use the facts of the case to defend her.

Let’s imagine that Jill frequently allowed Jack to borrow the car—and Jack doesn’t share his plan to rob the bank on the day he borrows Jill’s car. A knowledgeable Texas criminal defense lawyer might argue that Jill knew nothing about the bank robbery plan.

In that event, Jill might negotiate a plea bargain. She might have the option to plead guilty to a lesser charge or have all charges dropped against her.

Federal Aiding and Abetting Crimes

It’s possible for an individual to break federal, state, and local aiding and abetting laws. Under federal law, an individual may be charged with the commission of a crime even if the physical criminal act was committed by someone else.

“Knowingly” providing assistance to another party in order to commit or conceal a criminal act is a prosecutable offense. In a federal court, this is considered the same as committing the physical criminal act. For example, an employee who takes photos of a secure vault area in which he or she works is likely to face similar charges to the individual who utilizes the information to commit the robbery.

Aiding and Abetting Punishments

An individual who knowingly and willingly assists another party in his or her commission, escape from, or concealment of a crime may face charges involving the criminal act. For that reason, the punishment the offender receives for aiding and abetting can be identical to the punishments imposed on a person who physically committed a crime.

In the moment, helping a close friend or relative might not seem wrong, but if your friend or relative commits a felony, recognize you could face serious consequences. You could face the same charges as if you committed the felony yourself, and you could face a similar prison sentence and significant fines if you’re convicted.

In contrast, providing help to a close friend or family member without the knowledge that the other person plans to commit a crime may be a reasonable defense to an aiding and abetting charge. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in Texas will evaluate the facts of the case and available evidence to arrive at the appropriate defense.

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Jail time and fines

The range of available punishments for an individual who hinders another party’s apprehension typically includes a jail sentence and fines. If the criminal actor is charged with a Class A misdemeanor, a person found guilty of a failure to report offense could face up to a year in jail plus a $4,000 fine.

If the criminal offender is charged with a felony, this increases the potential jail time and fines available to the person who failed to report the crime to local authorities.

Summing Things Up

Never aid and abet a criminal.

It’s not illegally to help a fugitive if you don’t realize he or she has committed a crime. If a friend decides to hide in your vacation house without your knowledge after he or she commits a crime, you’re only guilty of an aiding and abetting crime if you knew about it and provided the keys.

Don’t provide a fugitive with anything that can be perceived as your attempt to hinder his or her apprehension. Don’t give or loan money, disguise, firearms, or transportation to a person attempting to evade arrest.

As you can see, dire consequences can result if you’re convicted of an aiding and abetting offense. If you’re aware that another party plans to commit a crime, or previously committed a crime, cooperate with prosecutors, investigators, and law enforcement with an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side. Contact Texas board-certified criminal defense attorney Brett A. Podolsky at 713.227.0087 to schedule an initial case evaluation now.

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