At what point is someone an accessory to a crime? More specifically, does an attempt to cover up someone’s sexual assault make you an accessory to that crime.
There’s quite the controversy surrounding many of Donald Trump’s comments regarding women and claims of sexual assault, but Hillary Clinton is no exception to the scrutiny surrounding these issues. There’s been plenty of negative media following Hillary around regarding her alleged attempt to cover up her husband’s past sexual assault allegations.
Juanita Broaddrick has revived her allegations against the Clintons. If you aren’t familiar with that name, back in 1999 Broaddrick went on national television and alleged that in the 1970’s Bill Clinton raped her in a hotel room. Many doubt the truth of Broaddrick’s allegations, but the rape allegations have resurfaced right before the 2016 Presidential elections—along with some new claims. Broaddrick has expressed her support for Trump because she claims not only did Hillary know about the 1970’s rape, but that Hillary tried to threaten her into remaining silent about it.
This has of course caused an outrage and many are now accusing Hillary of being an accessory to a sexual assault. If the allegations were true, could simple knowledge of the crime be enough to warrant accessory charges? What about threats to remain silent about the crime?
What Exactly Constitutes an Accessory to a Crime?
A person can be considered a party to a crime for a number of different reasons; they can participate in the crime before, during, and/or after the crime is committed. The terms aiding and abetting and accessories are sometimes used interchangeably, but they can be quite different.
Parties to crimes are classified as either a principal or an accessory. The key distinction is what they do to participate in the crime and when they contribute to the crime. Generally, an accessory gets involved after the crime whereas aiding and abetting a crime would be assisting in the criminal act prior to or during the crime. Helping someone evade capture, prosecution, or simply helping to conceal the crime would all be actions that would warrant charges of an accessory after the fact.
Assistance can come in many different forms, though, and doesn’t have to just be actions of concealment or physical assistance. Financial assistance would be another obvious way a person could be an accessory to a crime, but many may not realize providing emotional assistance, depending on the circumstances, could also factor into a prosecution.
Prosecutors Need to Be Able to Prove Certain Elements First
Of course, every state is different, but there are general elements that need to be proven in order for a state to bring a case against someone as an accessory after the fact. The first is the actual commission of a felony, but probably the most important piece is knowledge. Not only must the person possess awareness of the crime, but they must also have knowledge of the assailant’s identity. A person cannot unwittingly help a felon avoid arrest if they had no knowledge of the crime or no knowledge of who the person was in the first place.
For example, housing a criminal wouldn’t warrant an accessory charge if the person had no knowledge of the crime ever taking place and no knowledge of who the person was they were housing. However, housing the criminal to evade police, despite having the knowledge they committed a crime, would warrant accessory charges even if the person took no part in the crime itself.
To sum it up, if a wife, or any person for that matter, helped a sexual assailant conceal their crime then, yes, that person could be charged as an accessory. Threatening a victim to keep them silent would warrant accessory charges because it’s active concealment. It gets trickier, though, when you start talking about simple knowledge of the crime without any active concealment or help to evade prosecution.