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5.4: End-of-Chapter Material

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    97159

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    Summary

    Often more than one criminal defendant participates in the commission of a crime. Defendants working together with a common criminal purpose are acting with complicity and are responsible for the same crimes, to the same degree.

    At early common law, there were four parties to a crime. A principal in the first degree actually committed the crime. A principal in the second degree was present at the crime scene and assisted in the crime’s commission. An accessory before the fact was not present at the crime scene but helped prepare for the crime’s commission. An accessory after the fact helped a party after he or she committed a crime by providing aid in escaping or avoiding arrest and prosecution or conviction. In modern times, there are only two parties to a crime: a principal, who is in the same category as his or her accomplices. Principals actually commit the crime, and they and their accomplices are criminally responsible for it.

    The criminal act element required to be an accomplice is aiding or abetting the principal in the commission of a crime. Words are enough to constitute the accomplice’s criminal act. Mere presence at the scene, even presence at the scene combined with flight after the crime’s commission, is not enough to constitute the actus reus.

    Accomplice liability in Alaska is a dual intent offense. The accomplice must intend to promote the commission of the crime and act with the underlying culpable mental state with respect to the harm caused.

    The natural and probable consequences doctrine holds accomplices criminally responsible for all crimes the principal commits that are reasonably foreseeable. An accomplice can be prosecuted for a crime the principal commits even if the principal is not prosecuted or acquitted.

    Vicarious liability transfers criminal responsibility from one party to another because of a special relationship. Vicarious liability is common between employers and employees and is the basis for corporate criminal liability. Under organizational liability, a corporation can be fined for the crimes of a high managerial corporate agent who commits a criminal act during the scope of their employment. The corporate agent or employee also is criminally responsible for his or her conduct. In general, the law disfavors criminal vicarious liability.

    In modern times, an accessory is generally prosecuted under the offense of hindering prosecution and not as an accessory after the fact as was the case at common law. The criminal act element required for hindering prosecution is rendering assistance to a principal in escape, avoiding detection, or arrest and prosecution, or conviction for the commission of a felony or misdemeanor. The related crime of compounding criminalizes an agreement, in exchange for a benefit, not to assist law enforcement or withhold evidence.

    Key Takeaways

    • The four parties to crime at early common law were principals in the first degree, principals in the second degree, accessories before the fact, and accessories after the fact. These designations signified the following:
      • Principals in the first degree committed the crime.
      • Principals in the second degree were present at the crime scene and assisted in the crime’s commission.
      • Accessories before the fact were not present at the crime scene, but assisted in preparing for the crime’s commission.
      • Accessories after the fact helped a party to the crime avoid detection and escape prosecution or conviction.
    • In modern times, the parties to crime are principals and their accomplices, and accessories.
    • The criminal act element required for accomplice liability is aiding, abetting, or assisting in the commission of a crime. Words may be enough to constitute the accomplice criminal act element, while mere presence at the scene without a legal duty to act is not enough.
    • The natural and probable consequences doctrine holds an accomplice criminally responsible if the crime the principal commits is foreseeable when the accomplice assists the principal.
    • The accomplice is criminally responsible for the crimes the principal commits.
    • An accomplice can be prosecuted for an offense even if the principal is not prosecuted or is tried and acquitted.
    • Accomplice liability holds an accomplice accountable when he or she is complicit with the principal; vicarious liability imposes criminal responsibility on a defendant because of a special relationship with the criminal actor.
    • Accomplice liability holds a complicit defendant accountable for the crime the principal commits; accessory (now called hindering prosecution) is a separate crime and is typically a misdemeanor or low-level felony. Compounding is a related, but distinct crime that punishes agreements to withhold or conceal evidence.

    Answer to You be the Judge 5.1

    Although harsh, if the jury finds that the co-workers acted with the appropriate culpable mental state, they are accomplices. They are guilty of manslaughter to the same extent as Jim. The rule at common law is that when a person purposely assists or encourages another person to engage in conduct that is dangerous to human life or safety, and an unintended injury or death results, it does not matter which person actually caused the injury or death by their personal conduct. As described by one legal scholar, “[t]hose present at an unlawful fist fight [who] encourage continued blows by shouts or gestures … will be guilty of manslaughter if death should ensure.” SeeRiley v. State, 60 P.3d 204, 211 (Alaska App. 2011) citing Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 739-40 (3rd ed. 1982).

    Answer to Exercises

    From “Parties to a Crime”

    1. Penelope could be charged with and convicted of robbery as an accomplice. Penelope assisted Justin by telling him what time the security guard took his break. Although Penelope was not present at the scene, if the trier of fact determines that Penelope had the proper culpable mental state required for accomplice liability then Penelope can be held accountable for this crime. Note that Penelope assisted Justin with words and that words are enough to constitute the criminal act element required for accomplice liability.

    From “Vicarious Liability”

    1. ABC Corporation probably is not vicariously liable for criminal homicide because Brad’s reckless conduct did not occur during the scope of employment; the criminal homicide occurred as Brad was driving home. However, if Brad were required to work while driving home (by making work-related phone calls, for example), vicarious liability could be present in this instance.
    2. The Court of Appeals reversed the corporation’s convictions, finding that the jury had been instructed improperly. The court outlined three theories of criminal corporate liability:
      1. The bouncer was an employee of the corporation and the assault was within the scope of the bouncer’s employment and the assault was committed on behalf of the corporation;
      2. The bar manager facilitated the bouncer’s assault (the manager was an accomplice) and the facilitation was within the scope of the manager’s employment and the assault was committed on behalf of the corporation; or
      3. The manager solicited the bouncer to commit the assault (or subsequently ratified it) and the assault was committed on behalf of the corporation.

    From “Accessory”

    1. Cory has probably committed the crime of hindering prosecution in the second degree. Cory’s response to the police officer’s question was false, and it appears to be made with the intent to help Amanda escape detection. Note that Cory renders assistance using words, but words are enough to constitute the criminal act element required for accessory liability. Cory is not an accomplice to Amanda’s crime because she did not act to assist Amanda with the parking meter destruction and theft; she only acted after the crime was committed. Her failure to report the crime is probably not an “omission to act” because it is extremely unlikely that a statute exists requiring individuals to report theft committed in their presence, creating a legal duty to act.

    This page titled 5.4: End-of-Chapter Material is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Rob Henderson via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.