Accessory Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Accessory, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Accessory?

n. not the chief actor in the perpetration of the offence, or someone who is not present on the scene of crime, but is related to crime either from before its happening or from afterwards. Say for example, a person who assists in or conceals a crime, but does not actually participate in the commission of the crime.

History and Meaning of Accessory

The term "accessory" in legal language refers to a person who participates in or aids in the commission of a crime, without being the main culprit. The concept has been around since the earliest forms of criminal law, and in common law, it is divided into two categories: accessories before the fact, and accessories after the fact.

An accessory before the fact is someone who helps plan or prepare for a crime, but is not physically present when the crime is committed. An accessory after the fact, on the other hand, is someone who assists or conceals the perpetrator after the crime has been committed.

Examples of Accessory

  • If a person provides a getaway car for a bank robber, they could be charged as an accessory before the fact.
  • If someone helps a murderer hide the weapon or dispose of evidence, they could be charged as an accessory after the fact.
  • A hacker who provides technical assistance to a group of cybercriminals could be charged as an accessory to the cybercrime.
  • If a person is aware that their spouse or roommate is growing marijuana in their home and does not report it, they could be charged as an accessory to the drug crime.

Legal Terms Similar to Accessory

  • Abettor: Similar to an accessory, an abettor is someone who encourages or incites another person to commit a crime, without directly participating in the crime themselves.
  • Accomplice: An accomplice is someone who directly participates in the commission of a crime, often acting as an assistant or co-perpetrator.
  • Conspiracy: Conspiracy is a separate crime that involves an agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act. The difference between conspiracy and being an accessory is that a conspirator has a more active role in planning the crime, while an accessory assists in some way before or after the fact.