In law, an accomplice is someone who has any direct involvement in the commission of a crime. For example, if two people decide to work together to commit armed robbery of a bank, one of them could end up being an accomplice to the crime. Often in real life, such crimes have consisted of one robber holding a gun on a teller or store clerk while the other served as a lookout. Despite the fact that the lookout did not actually hold the gun or receive the stolen money, he or she is considered to be an accomplice.
"Aider" and "abettor" are other terms used to refer to someone who has participated in a crime because he or she helped at least one criminal. Accomplice law has been a polemic topic because of the penalties, including capital punishment, that someone who aided in the commission of a crime can receive. This means that someone who assisted in the commission of a homicide, although he or she might not have committed the murder, would be an accomplice to murder. If the law of the land where the murder was committed provides for punishment by death, accomplices to murder could receive the death penalty.
Other examples of aiding the commission of a crime might include illegally supplying someone with the weapon that is used to commit the crime. Luring a person into a situation where he or she is to be harmed, kidnapped or killed also would constitute accomplice liability. Complicity is yet another term that refers to accomplice liability. There is one very important fact that some people fail to realize concerning this law, which is that the person who aided in the crime can receive a more severe punishment than the person who actually committed the crime.
It should be understood that being an accomplice to a crime is not the same as being an accessory to one. An accessory to a crime is not directly involved in the commission of the crime and usually is not present when it is committed, but he or she contributes to the crime in some other way. This is why he or she might receive a lesser punishment than the person or people who actually committed the criminal act. In the United States, the court systems of some jurisdictions will take into consideration the knowledge that an aider might or might not have had regarding intent to commit a crime. Many people agree with these considerations and see them as a more just way to judge and order punishment to be received.