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Welcome to my Law blog specifically intended as an aid to law students. I will post comments and white papers, from time to time, and I am happy to carry on conversations with students who are in need of help in law school.


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I am a Professor of Law at Concord Law School, an Internet Law School located in Los Angeles, though I live, teach and otherwise work out of Lakewood, Colorado, resting up against the foothills just west of Denver.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

1 - Crimes – Third Party Liability (Accomplice Liability)

1 - Crimes – Third Party Liability (Accomplice Liability)

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM SOME OF MY CLASS NOTES, SOME OF WHICH IS MY OWN PERSONAL WORK AND SOME OF WHICH BELONGS TO CONCORD LAW SCHOOL.  IT IS POSTED TO HELP MY IL STUDENTS IN PARTICULAR.  IT CANNOT BE DISSEMINATED WITHOUT EXPRESS, WRITTEN PERMISSION.

Accomplice Liability

Accomplice liability is a device by which one person may be held vicariously liable for the acts of another. One who aids, abets, encourages, or assists another is as guilty as the one who commits the crime.

Earlier we talked about other forms of vicarious liability, namely, solicitation, conspiracy, and the felony-murder vicarious liability rules.

Often, for accomplice liability, the issue will be whether a defendant’s mere presence at the scene, even if coupled with a slight prior association with the perpetrator, will be sufficient to find that the defendant is subject to accomplice liability. Often there may also be a subsequent flight from the scene of the crime.

The rule is that something more than mere presence is needed since courts “abhor guilt by association.” Clearly, something more than being present is required. How much more is subject to some debate. Let’s try this: A is robbing a gas station when B, A’s friend, just happens to drive by and sees A. B stops and asks A if he needs a ride and A responds. In this situation, B will not be guilty as an accomplice, but he may be guilty as an accessory after the fact if B, after picking up A, learns that A has robbed the gas station and does not take some sort of fairly immediate action. This is one of those cases where something more than mere presence is needed. The same would be true if B, while driving by the gas station, recognizes that A has committed a robbery and just speeds away. The mere fact of presence and even knowing what has happened and then fleeing the scene is not sufficient.

Now, let’s assume that we can prove more than mere presence – that defendant really did aid, abet, encourage, or assist the perpetrator in the commission of the crime. The Pinkerton rule tells us that each member of a conspiracy is liable for any crime committed by a co-conspirator in furtherance of the conspiracy and which is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy. Note that this is more than about conspiracy. It is a limit on Accomplice Liability.

Note, however, most courts have rejected Pinkerton.

Okay, so we know that if someone is an accessory or co-conspirator to a crime, they will be held vicariously liable for all foreseeable crimes committed by other parties during the course of and in furtherance of the conspiracy.

Regarding abandonment, MPC (5.02 (6)) says that “It is an affirmative defense that the actor, after conspiring to commit a crime, thwarted the success of the conspiracy, under circumstances manifesting a complete and voluntary renunciation of his criminal purpose.” So, quietly leaving the scene before the crime occurs is not enough and that the withdrawal must be timely and show opposition and/or disapproval of the crime and withdrawal of any support given.


Next time in crimes, we’ll move to an entirely new area.

Professor Doug Holden
© 2010. Douglas S. Holden. All rights reserved.

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