Dr. Samuel Mudd might be the most infamous aider and abettor in American history.[1] When Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth staggered into Mudd’s office with a broken leg, Dr. Mudd set the bone, didn’t ask questions, and was swept up in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. He tried to set the record straight for the rest of his life. But to this day, his name is still dragged through the mud.

Many criminal accomplices are like Dr. Mudd. They don’t know all the plan’s nefarious details, usually because they don’t want to know. But under New York law, if they commit an overt act in furtherance of the criminal enterprise, they could face aiding and abetting charges. That overt act could be legal, such as giving medical treatment to a desperate man or putting gas in a getaway car.

Today, the collateral effects of a criminal conviction include much more than a damaged reputation. People with felony convictions on their records usually have problems finding good jobs and lovely places to live. They also forfeit many civil rights, and when other people commit crimes nearby, people with criminal records instantly become the prime suspects. A Rochester criminal defense lawyer, who could be counted on as a professional aiding and abetting defense attorney, often uses one of the defenses listed below to reduce or eliminate these consequences.

Lack of Evidence

Accomplices aren’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As mentioned above, they must intentionally commit an overt act that aids the criminal cause. Let’s focus on the requirements of mens rea (criminal state of mind).

Usually, prosecutors use conduct to prove mental state, like intent. So, if the defendant committed a legal act, proving unlawful intent is harder. However, the aforementioned willful blindness factor comes into play as well.

As a side note, “intentionally” is a nebulous state of mind below maliciously. Mudd was a Southern sympathizer, but he didn’t hate Lincoln. Therefore, he didn’t maliciously help Booth, but rather, he intentionally helped him.

The usual or unusual nature of the act often determines intent. Doctors often set broken legs but rarely set them in the middle of the night for a person who “fell in the bathtub” or whatever story Booth told Mudd. Actually, according to some, Booth threatened Mudd. If he did so, Mudd may have had an additional defense. More on that below.


This affirmative defense is closely related to a lack of intent. If the co-conspirator actively and vocally withdraws, s/he didn’t have the requisite intent, especially if s/he withdrew at a critical point.

Assume Sam asks Sally to watch a street corner later that morning while he “goes to the bank.” Sally initially agrees but gets cold feet and doesn’t show up. She withdrew, but her action might not meet the vocal withdrawal requirement. Then again, actions speak louder than words, so it’s complicated.

Usually, the state has the burden of proof in criminal cases. But the defendant has the burden of proof if s/he raises an argument like withdrawal, self-defense, or another affirmative defense. Therefore, most Rochester criminal defense lawyers use affirmative defenses as fallbacks rather than primary defenses.

Accessory After the Fact

For many decades, Dr. Mudd conceded that he intentionally helped Booth. But he argued that what was done was done. His medical help didn’t assist the prior assassination. Indeed, if the defendant was an accessory after the fact, the defendant usually isn’t guilty of aiding and abetting.

The issue is where “the fact” ends. Is Sam’s bank robbery complete when Sam grabs the money or when Sam leaves the bank? Naturally, prosecutors use the broad version; in most cases, judges back them up.


Coercion is a defense to almost all crimes, including accomplice liability. This affirmative defense could be direct or indirect.

If Mudd initially refused to assist Booth, Booth told Mudd, “Help me or else,” and Mudd reasonably believed Booth could make good on his threat, Booth coerced Mudd. All three elements of duress were present.

Frequently, a Rochester criminal defense attorney can only prove Part III. If Sally reasonably believed Sam could somehow hurt her, she might immediately agree to assist Sam, obviating his need to make a “help me or else” threat. A one-part duress defense could hold up in court, but an aiding and abetting defense attorney must convince jurors that Parts I and II were implied.

Count on an Aiding and Abetting Defense Attorney from Monroe County

Accomplices aren’t always liable in criminal court. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Rochester, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. We routinely handle matters throughout Upstate New York.



[1] https://drmudd.org/about-dr-mudd/

The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.

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