Under Mississippi criminal law, “accessory before the fact” generally refers to the act of helping plan a crime or providing assistance to someone who is going to commit a crime, before the crime is actually committed. Accessory before the fact is not itself a crime. However, a person who is an accessory before the fact will be deemed guilty of the crime once completed. Pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 97-1-3, “every person who shall be an accessory to any felony, before the fact, shall be deemed and considered a principal, and shall be indicted and punished as such; and this whether the principal have been previously convicted or not.”
What this means is that a person who is an accessory before the fact can be convicted of the completed crime, just as if he had been the person who actually committed the crime.
An example of an accessory before the fact is where the accessory buys a gun and gives it to another person, knowing that the gun is going to be used in a robbery. Another example is where a store clerk leaves the safe unlocked when he leaves work, so that another person can break into the store and steal the money. In both instances, the accessory could be arrested, charged and convicted of the completed crime, just as if he had committed the crime himself.
Here’s some additional facts about accessory after the fact:
(1) Any aid, encouragement or assistance given to a person in preparing to commit a crime in Mississippi can result in being arrested and indicted as an accessory before the fact;
(2) In order to be convicted as an accessory before the fact, the accused must not have been present at the time the crime was committed. If the accused was present when the crime happened, he is an aider-and-abettor, not an accessory before the fact;
(3) The crime must not have been completed at the time the accused assisted the perpetrator. If the crime was completed when the accused provided assistance, he is not guilty of accessory before the fact. Rather, he would be guilty of accessory after the fact, which is a much less serious crime;
(4) Mississippi law on accessory before the fact requires that the accused know that the person he is helping is going to commit a crime, in order to be convicted. There is a further requirement that the accused intend to assist the person in committing the crime. What this means is that if the accused (a) does not know the person is going to commit a crime when he provides assistance, or (b) does not intend to assist the person in committing the crime at the time he provides assistance, then he is not guilty as an accessory after the fact;
(5) The accessory can be convicted of the completed crime, even if the person who actually committed the crime was not arrested, prosecuted or convicted.
While the consequences for a conviction as an accessory can be severe, the good news is that there are many defenses available to a person facing this charge. If you’ve been arrested as an accessory in Mississippi, or think you may be charged as an accessory, you need to talk to an experienced Mississippi criminal defense attorney immediately. Please call Curt Crowley at 601.944.1984. We’re ready to help.