If you knew a crime was going to happen and did nothing to stop it, should you be held responsible? This past summer, America watched in horror as the news broadcast the story of a mass shooting that resulted in the death of so many innocent lives. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in our history. Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, was questioned immediately after the attack and has been under heavy scrutiny ever since, but it wasn’t until recently she was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization.
Knowledge Alone Isn’t Enough
While some states have enacted failure to report laws, knowledge alone isn’t enough to prove someone criminally liable for aiding and abetting. Salman contends she had no prior knowledge of what Mateen was going to do. If she really didn’t know what her husband was up to, then I don’t see the charges sticking. Even though knowledge isn’t quite enough to land you a guilty verdict, combining knowledge with actionable steps is a different story.
In a federal court, aiding and abetting is proven when the accused aided, counseled, commanded, induced or procured the person committing the crime with the intent to facilitate a crime. Think of it as assisting or being an accessory to the crime. Did the accused assist the person, in any way, that committed the crime in any way? Did the accused provide money? Supplies? Was the accused aware that their assistance was, in fact, for a crime?
Media reports have suggested authorities believe that prior to the massacre Salman drove with her husband to the night club Mateen and was present with Mateen when he bought ammunition. This could certainly be argued in favor of either party.
If Salman drover her husband to the night club so that he could scout the area, then that could definitely amount to liability. If Salman knew her husband was buying ammunition to use against others, that could amount to liability.
On the other hand, if Salman simply drove with her husband to Orlando with no knowledge that he was even looking at the club, as her lawyer argues, then that’s not enough to prove she aided or abetted Mateen. Similarly, if she was shopping with her husband at Walmart where he regularly buys ammunition for the shooting range, as her lawyer argues, then she still wouldn’t be liable under those charges.
Federal Charges Could Mean a Heavy Sentence
Aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization is a charge that falls under a portion of the U.S. Patriot Act. Here’s a look at what the charging documents claim Salman did:
- That she knowingly aided and abetted Mateen’s attempted provision of “material support or resources”,
- That she knowingly aided and abetted Mateen by providing personnel and services to a terrorist organization, namely ISIS and the Levant,
- That she knew the terrorist organization was in fact a designated terrorist organization, and
- That she knew the terrorist organization had engaged in and was engaging in terrorism and the death of multiple victims resulted.
Although the charges tack on the element of knowledge of a terrorist organization, everything is essentially the same as proving a normal aiding and abetting offense. It all comes down to knowledge, but it has to be knowledge plus action. Not one without the other. Salman has publicly stated she received a text message from her husband the morning of the attack asking her if she had seen what happened, which does suggest that Mateen hadn’t discussed his plans with his wife.
If she’s found guilty, Salman could be facing life in prison. Authorities also charged Salman with obstruction of justice claiming she knowingly mislead authorities, which carries an additional risk of 20 years.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney-at-Law