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What Is An Aiding and Abetting Crime? California Penal Code Section 31

Posted by Philip Israels | May 28, 2019

The crime of “aiding and abetting” is described under California Penal Code Section 31. In general terms, it's providing some type of assistance in the commission of a crime – by doing or saying something to further unlawful activity. Aiding and abetting falls under the umbrella of the theory of “accomplice liability, ” meaning an act of being criminally complicit. In other words, it means to help someone commit a crime, or to promote it to it's accomplishment.

It's important to note that aiding and abetting is not crime in itself, but a legal rule that will allow a prosecutor to file charges against participants in committing the crime. This means you could face charges even in a situation where you didn't actually commit a crime yourself, but did some act to participate in completing the crime. Under Penal Code 31, any person who aids or abets a crime is guilty even if someone else committed some, or even all of the criminal acts. Aiding and abetting is described as helping another person commit a crime, even if there was no direct participation in the actual crime.

For example, let's use the armed robbery of a convenience store. One man enters the store with a weapon and demands all the money while another man waits in the car as a get away driver.  The suspect waiting in the car could also be help liable for the armed robbery even though he did not directly participate, but provided assistance in committing the crime.

If you are facing accusation of aiding and abetting, you should seek legal assistance from the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Cron, Israels & Stark. Our experienced aiding and abetting defense attorneys will closely review all the specific details in order to start preparing a strategy to obtain the best possible outcome on your case.

Legal Definition of Aiding and Abetting

California Penal Code 31 PC aiding and abetting, is legally defined as:

  • "Any person concerned in the commission of a crime, whether felony or misdemeanor, or whether they directly commit the the offense, or aid and abet in its commission, or not being present, have advised and encouraged its commission, are principals in any crime so committed."

It's important to note this means if you contribute in committing a crime in any manner, you will be treated like you committed the crime itself and be charged as an accessory and will face legal penalties for the underlying crime.  So, what type of behavior would be considered “aiding and abetting” under Penal Code Section 31? It includes the following:

  • Aiding
  • Promoting
  • Encouraging
  • Facilitating
  • Instigating a crime

Common examples of aiding and abetting includes acting as a “lookout,” assisting another person obtain a weapon to commit a crime, concealing evidence of a crime, and giving a false alibi for another person you knew committed a crime. In short, any act that helps another person to commit a crime can be illegal under PC 31.

Elements of the Crime

In order to be found guilty of on aiding and abetting, the must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, the following elements of the crime:

  • A perpetrator committed a crime
  • You knew they intended to commit the crime
  • Before or during the committing the crime. you had the intent to aid and abet the perpetrator to commit the crime; and
  • Your behavior provided some helpful assistance

It should be noted you don't have to be physically present at the scene of the crime to be convicted of aiding and abetting. The primary issue is whether you directly or indirectly provided aid to the perpetrator.


You can't be guilty of aiding and abetting unless you knew someone else had intent to commit a crime. You must have known before you gave assistance or encouragement. If you found out after the crime was committed, but didn't disclose to police, you might still be considered an accessory after the fact.


You have to have shared the perpetrator's intent to commit a crime. You can't aid and abet a crime if you lacked intent to commit a crime. The prosecutor has to be able to show you gave willful assistance without coercion from another person.


The prosecutor must be able to prove you actually provided assistance in some manner. Again, you don't have to actually be present when the crime was committed to aid and abet. Penal Code Section 31 only requires some type of direct or indirect aid to the perpetrator by acts or encouragement by words or gestures.

Legal Penalties for Aiding and Abetting

Under California law, the legal penalties for aiding and abetting, whether directly or indirectly, will be subjected to the penalties of that specific crime. For example, in a murder case, if the perpetrator acted with premeditation and facing a life in a California state prison sentence, then the person who aided and abetted will be subjected to the same sentence.

If you assist someone in committing burglary, you will face the the legal penalties for that felony crime. Due to you aiding and abetting, you will be facing up to 6 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.  As you can see from this information above, there is no distinction between the actual perpetrator of the crime and the aider and abettor. A closely related crime is California Penal Code 32, accessory after the fact.

Legal Defense for Aiding and Abetting

Our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use a wide range of legal defenses to defend you against charge of aiding and abetting in violation of California penal Code Section 31, including:

  • You had no knowledge the perpetrator was going to commit the crime. For example, if we can show did not have prior knowledge a crime was about to be committed, you can probably avoid a conviction. Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • You didn't knowingly and willingly offer assistance in commuting the crime.
  • You didn't share the perpetrator's intent to commit the crime
  • You didn't offer assistance that actually aiding in committing the crime
  • You were falsely accused of aiding and abetting

If you have been accused of aiding and abetting, you can still face stiff legal penalties if convicted. Contact our criminal defense law firm to thoroughly review the specific details so we can start preparing an effective defense strategy for best possible outcome. A conviction can have life-altering consequences on your personal and professional life.

We have decades of combined experience and the knowledge to defend you against charges of aiding and abetting described under Penal Code 31.  We provide a free consultation to assist you in understanding the criminal process and how we can help you moving forward.

About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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