1.08 Parties to Crimes
The common law recognized degrees of criminal participation. Under that system, and in some states today, an individual may be charged as a principal in the first degree, principal in the second degree, accessory before the fact, or accessory after the fact. The reason why degrees of principals and accessories were permitted under the common law, and in some modern jurisdictions, is an attempt to soften penalties for persons not actually or directly involved in the crime itself. Under these circumstances, the following are examples of principals and accessories:
1. Principal in the first degree would be the actual participant in the crime;
2. A principal in the second degree would be one who is not actually present, such as a lookout;
3. An accessory before the fact is one who aided and abetted in the commission of the crime prior to its being committed, but is not actually present at the time the act is committed;
4. An accessory after the fact is one who aids and abets a person who he has learned has committed a felony after the crime has been committed.
Under modern statutes, whoever commits any criminal offense against the state, whether felony or misdemeanor, or aids, abets, counsels, hires or otherwise procures such offense to be committed, is a principal of the First Degree and may be charged, convicted and punished as such, whether he is or is not actually or constructively present at the commission of such offense.
Florida, however, retains a separate statutory authority for the crime of accessory after the fact. The determination as to whether the charge in Florida law would be as a principal in the First Degree or as an Accessory After the Fact revolves around the element of knowledge. If an individual aids or abets another person after that person has committed a crime, when the person doing the aiding was aware that the defendant was going to commit the offense prior to the time it occurred, he is a principal in the First Degree. However, if he aided and abetted after an individual has committed a crime, and he had no prior knowledge of the crime, he is an Accessory After the Fact. Florida's statute (Section 777.03), dealing with accessory after the fact, provides that anyone who maintains or assists the principal or an accessory before the fact, or gives the offender any other aid, knowing that the offender had committed a crime and such crime was a third degree felony, or had been an accessory thereto before the fact, with the intent that the offender avoids or escapes detection, arrest, trial, or punishment, is an accessory after the fact. It excludes the actions of certain defined relations of the accused who aid the defendant to avoid responsibility for his act including husband/wife, child or grandchild, brother or sister.