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[Medieval Latin accessorius subordinate matter, accomplice to a crime, from Latin accedere to go to, agree, assent]
1 : a person who is not actually or constructively present but with criminal intent contributes as an assistant or instigator to the commission of a felony called also accessory before the fact compare principal in the second degree at principal NOTE: The traditional distinction between accessories before the fact and principals, that accessories were not present and principals were present at the commission of the crime, is not recognized under most modern state statutes. Accessories before the fact are usually considered principals.
2 : a person who knowing that a felony has been committed aids, assists, or shelters the offender with the intent to defeat justice called also accessory after the fact NOTE: Many state statutes now omit the term accessory after the fact and instead characterize the accessory as having committed a particular offense, such as obstructing justice.
3 : the crime of being an accessory usually used with to and specifying the crime [convicted of murder and to murder "H. B. Zobel"]; compare substantive crime
Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law ©1996. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Published under license with Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.