The law is a stubborn thing. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the legal system suddenly pulls a rabbit out of the hat and changes everything. Laws are passed and repealed every day. You hear it in the news: ” landmark decision changes the course of our legal destiny.” “Congress passes new Health Care Act much to the disgust of leftists.” And if you thought criminal law was stagnant then take a look at how more and more states are legalizing previously criminal behavior, like smoking marijuana for instance. So if you’ve always had a dislike for lawyers, then this might be a good time to bury the hatchet as the only attorney can dig you out of trouble when you’re on the wrong side of the law.
Perpetrator, Accomplice, and Accessory After The Fact
There are three distinct possibilities when a person is brought before a court and asked to plead to the charges as they appear in the charge sheet or indictment. You can be charged as a sole/co-perpetrator, an accomplice or an accessory after the fact. Knowing the difference is more important than it sounds on television when actors use these seemingly ‘fancy’ words. Knowing allows you to approach an attorney knowing exactly where you stand, thereby saving you a lot of time and money.
A perpetrator is basically a person whose conduct complies with the crime as it is defined. For a crime of murder -which is causing the death of another human being- a perpetrator is a person whose actions fit the description of the crime as it is defined. However, even though an accomplice does not act in a way that fits snugly into the definition of a crime, he somehow furthers the commission of the crime. Which is why you’re likely to be charged as an accomplice to murder if you hold someone down as another person stabs the victim to death. On the other hand, an accessory after the fact has no direct connection with the commission of the crime but helps the perpetrator(s) to escape liability. So a person who goes on to hide the deceased’s body would, in fact, be an accessory after the fact.
Driving Under The Influence
So how does this fit into the bigger picture, particularly when it comes to driving under the influence? Well, you certainly can’t be charged as an accomplice to such a charge. As for being an accessory after the fact, it’s possible. Your friend is stopped by the traffic police and -as the cop approaches- you quickly exchange seats. Now, if this is caught on camera, you could easily find yourself being charged as an accessory after the fact or charged separately for obstructing the course of justice.
Attempt, Conspiracy, and Incitement
Criminal law doesn’t only concern itself with completed crimes. At times the law punishes conduct that is merely anticipatory, i.e. inchoate or incomplete crimes. As unfair as it might seem at first, there is a sense in it. Just because someone fails to accomplish an intended motive shouldn’t be an opportunity to avoid criminal liability.
An attempt is when a person does everything to commit a crime but, for some reason, it the crime isn’t completed. The typical example is that of a person pulling the trigger but missing the target. The idea is that there is a distinguishing line between the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end that one must cross in order to be guilty of attempt. Simple, but complicated! All the more reason to hire an attorney because without legal assistance you can be convicted with relative ease. Conspiracy and incitement are more straightforward though. The former basically entails entering into an agreement with another person to commit a crime, whilst the latter is when you influence someone to commit a crime.
Felonies And Misdemeanors: Why The Distinction
Every state in the U.S classifies crimes into felonies and misdemeanors. Why the distinction you may ask, a crime is a crime after all. Well, classifying crimes according to seriousness allows judges to pass sentences that are suitable without much deliberation. It simplifies sentencing a great deal. Felonies carry a term of imprisonment exceeding 12 months. Anything below that is reserved for minor misdemeanors.
* Common assault.
* Petty thefts not exceeding $500 in value.
* Indecent exposure.
* Traffic offenses: speeding, DUI, reckless driving.
* Dealing in drugs
Formally & Materially Defined Crimes
Last but not least, when you’re charged with committing a crime, there are two clear possibilities. It can either be a formally defined crime or a materially defined one. Formally defined crimes prohibit a certain form of conduct regardless of the result. DUI’s, possession of drugs and perjury are typical examples. Materially defined crimes, on the other hand, prohibit the causing of a particular result. In the latter case, it doesn’t matter what means were used for as long as the prohibited result is brought about. For a lawyer, this can be a deciding factor as it’s easier to get acquitted for committing a materially defined crime.