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Could You Be Prosecuted for “Aiding and Abetting” a Corporate Crime?

An individual – an executive, director, or employee – can be prosecuted under an “aiding and abetting” or “accomplice” criminal liability theory for facilitating the commission of a crime by doing some affirmative act or knowingly failing to act.  For the most part, under federal law, an individual convicted of aiding and abetting a crime faces the same penalties as the principal that committed the crime.

Mere knowledge of the crime or association between the principal and the aider and abettor is not enough.  The aider and abettor must intentionally assist the criminal venture’s purpose.

The assistance can come through performing an affirmative act – for example, providing a code allowing access to data stolen by others.  It can also come through knowingly failing to act or “willful blindness” – for example, intentionally failing to secure data stolen by others.

So, to convict an individual of aiding and abetting a crime, a prosecutor must prove:

  • The commission of a crime.
  • The defendant’s association with the criminal venture with an intention to see it come about.
  • The defendant’s assistance in the commission of a crime.

An individual is not guilty of aiding and abetting if the crime has already been committed at the time the assistance is rendered.  And, of course, there can be no aiding and abetting if the principal ultimately is found not guilty.

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