He who is not the chief actor in the perpetration of the offence, nor present at its performance, but is some way concerned therein, either before or after the fact committed.
An accessary before the fact, is one who being absent at the time of, the crime committed, yet procures, counsels, or commands another to commit it. It is, proper to observe that when the act is committed through the agency of a person who has no legal discretion nor a will, as in the case of a child or an insane person, the incitor, though absent when the crime was committed, will be considered, not an accessary, for none can be accessary to the acts of a madman, but a principal in the first degree.
An accessary after the fact, is one who knowing a felony to have been committed, receives, relieves, comforts, or assists the felon.
No one who is a principal can be an accessary.
In certain crimes, there can be no accessaries; all who are concerned are principals, whether they were present or absent at the time of their commission. These are treason, and all offences below the degree of felony; such is the English Law. But whether it is law in the United States appears not to be determined as regards the cases of persons assisting traitors.
It is evident there can be no accessary when there is no principal; if a principal in a transaction be not liable under our laws, no one can be charged as a more accessary to him.
By the rules of the common law, accessaries cannot be tried without their consent, before the principals.
This entry contains material from Bouvier's Legal Dictionary, a work published in the 1850's.
Courtesy of the 'Lectric Law Library