At common law and historically, an accessory before the fact – someone who had the requisite intent and provide some kind of assistance or encouragement in the commission of a crime – was punished less harshly than the principal – the person who actually committed the crime.

So if I helped you get the code to access a bank vault, and you went and robbed the bank, I would be guilty of accessory before the fact in the robbery. I would be punished at a lower level than you would, all things being equal.

However, North Carolina has eliminated the distinction between accessory before the fact and the principal. So we’d both be convicted of the same crime, all things being equal.

The one distinction is capital murder.

See the statute:

§ 14-5.2. Accessory before fact punishable as principal felon

All distinctions between accessories before the fact and principals to the commission of a felony are abolished. Every person who heretofore would have been guilty as an accessory before the fact to any felony shall be guilty and punishable as a principal to that felony. However, if a person who heretofore would have been guilty and punishable as an accessory before the fact is convicted of a capital felony, and the jury finds that his conviction was based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of one or more principals, coconspirators, or accessories to the crime, he shall be guilty of a Class B2 felony.

Damon Chetson - 1003 posts

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.

Criminal Process, Felonies