Guilt by Association and Acting in Concert

by | Feb 22, 2021 | Blog Posts, Federal Criminal Defense, NC Criminal Defense

There are old sayings and concepts that we do not know where they originated but they hold some truth to real life. One of those concepts that apply to criminal law is “guilty by association.” Guilt by association is not necessarily a legal term or legal theory in North Carolina but still has some bearing when it comes to accomplice liability and other situations. In this blog, we will discuss the concept of guilty by association. Like all our blogs, this is intended for general informational purposes only and not a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney.

When guilt by association becomes real

When you are with someone while they are committing a crime, there are times you can be charged with either the same crime or another crime. This is covered by the legal theory known as accomplice liability. There are various forms of accomplice liability, we will discuss a few:

Acting in concertActing in concert is a legal theory that will hold you just as responsible for a crime as the person who committed the crime if you were with them and exhibited certain behaviors while with them.

Example – Someone is with a group of friends and him and that group of friends go and try to rob someone.  The intention of most of the friends is never to harm anyone, just to threaten them with a gun to make some money. During the commission of this activity if one of those people shoots and kills someone, the entire group of friends will be charged with First Degree murder under the theory of acting in concert.

Aiding and Abetting Aiding and Abetting  is when a person knowingly advises, instigates, encourages, procures, or helps the other person commit the crime, and his or her actions or statements caused or contributed to the commission of the crime by the other person. Typically, the person who is convicted of aiding and abetting will face the same consequences of the person who committed the underlying crime.

Non accomplice liability situations


Guilty by association is not always about committing an actual crime. Possession is a crime that often gets charged with some innocent parties. An example of this is if you are in a car with one person that has drugs. One person having drugs may be enough to search the car from drugs and if there are drugs in a car that you are in, you may be charged with possession even if the drugs are not yours. This is known as construction possession. It would be up to you and your attorney to put up a good defense of these charges.

Accessory after the fact

What if you had nothing to do with the commission of a crime but you helped your friend cover things ups or hide after he committed the crime, is there any guilt by association to worry about in this case? Yes, you can be charged with accessory after the fact. The punishment for accessory after the fact is typically two classes lower than the underlying charge but several exceptions apply.

DISCLAIMER – This forum is intended for general questions and comments about the particular law or topic. Comments are public and are not protected by confidentiality or attorney-client privilege; therefore, they can be used against you in court. Please refrain from revealing your identify or specifics about any actual criminal case. No attorney-client relationship is created in this forum.

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