Federal Accomplice Statutes


Fundamentals of Criminal Law

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.

Jack Brown, Ph.D.


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This content is released as a draft version for comment by the scholarly community.  Please do not distribute.


Federal accomplice liability arises under 18 USC § 2(a), a general aiding and abetting statute that applies generally to all federal crimes. Under this statute, anyone aiding or abetting the commission of a federal crime can be charged and punished as if he were a principal. The original accomplice liability statute had two purposes: abolishing the common law distinctions between different levels of accomplice liability and eliminating the need to attach an aiding and abetting section to each new substantive offense.

Although federal accomplice liability is statutorily created, the general language used in 18 USC § 2(a) makes it necessary for the courts to rely on common law methods to develop the standards for its implementation. Since the statute was enacted, therefore, courts have shaped the doctrine of accomplice liability. The traditional standard for aiding and abetting requires that the defendant “in some sort associate himself with the venture, . . . participate in it as something that he wishes to bring about, . . . and seek by his action to make it succeed.”  Developed by Judge Learned Hand, this test is still generally accepted as the appropriate standard for imposing accomplice liability under 18 USC § 2(a).

Modification History

File Created:  07/12/2018

Last Modified:  07/12/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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