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Criminal Resource Manual

2473. Case Law

Long ago it was ruled settled law that all who aid, abet, procure, or advise the commission of a crime are guilty as principals. United States v. Snyder, 14 F. 554, 556 (C.C.Minn. 1882). This is the rule whether the crime is created by statute or by the common law. Id. When Congress creates a statutory criminal law it must be assumed that it is done with the aforestated well-settled rules of law in view, and if so, with the intent that aiders and abettors, as well as the actual doers of the crime, may be punished under it. Id. The rule that all procurers and abettors of statutory offenses are punishable under the statutes, even though not expressly referred to in the statute, is supported by authority. Id.

Learned Hand, in his written opinion in United States v. Peoni, 100 F.2d 401, 402 (2d Cir. 1938), reviewed the history of common law of accessory liability. He noted that the early definitions demanded that the accessory associate himself in some sort with the venture, that he participate in it as in something that he wishes to bring about, and that he seek by his action to make it succeed. Id. Judge Hand noted that all the words used, even the colorless "abet," carry on implication of purposive attitude towards it. Id. The word "abet" is a French derivation of two words meaning "to bait." Blacks Law Dictionary 5 (6th ed. 1990). It is defined as "[t]o encourage, incite, or set another on to commit a crime. Id.

Judge Hand's pronouncement of the elements of aiding and abetting were reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Nye & Nissen v. United States, 336 U.S. 613, 619, 69 S.Ct. 766, 769-70, 93 L.Ed. 919 (1949). There, the court stated that the theory of aiding and abetting is well ingrained in the law. Id., 386 U.S. at 618, 69 S.Ct. at 769.

Though a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2, is based on an aiding and abetting theory, those convicted as aiders and abettors are deemed responsible as principals. See Standefer, 447 U.S. at 19, 100 S.Ct. at 2005; United States v. Lyons, 53 F.3d 1198, 1201 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 116 S.Ct. 262, 133 L.Ed.2d 185 (1995).

[updated October 1998]