Vicarious Liability in Criminal Law
Vicarious Liability Issues in Criminal Cases
Vicarious liability is a legal theory of liability that allows the court to hold a person accountable for acts he or she did not directly committed. This often occurs in the context of civil law—for example, in employment cases. In a criminal context, vicarious liability assigns guilt, or criminal liability, to a person for wrongful acts committed by someone else.
Individuals may be found vicariously liable for a crime if they helped to further the crime in some way. This includes aiding and abetting criminal activities.
Three Theories of Vicarious Liability
There are three theories of vicarious liability in a crime law context:
1) Criminal Conspiracy: if a person enters into conspiracy to commit a crime, that person will be directly liable for a separate crime of conspiracy. He will also be vicariously liable for the conspired. A party to conspiracy may also be found vicariously liable for crimes committed by other defendants during the course of conspiracy. Such vicarious liability may be found for crimes that are foreseeable consequences and in furtherance of the conspiracy. The following elements are required to establish conspiracy:
- Two or more persons must agree to accomplish some crime or felony.
- Parties to the conspiracy must have had an intent to enter agreement.
- Parties must also intend to accomplish the conspired for crime.
- Modernly, there must be an "overt act" in furtherance of the conspiracy.
2) Accomplice Liability: an accomplice is someone who aids, abets, counsels, or in any way encourages another (the "principal") to commit a crime. An accomplice may be vicariously liable for crimes he "aided and abetted" as well as other foreseeable crimes that principal commits. The following factors are relevant to accomplice liability:
- An accomplice has to "aid and abet" with the intent that the principal commits the crime.
- Further, an accomplice typically "aids and abets" before or at the time of crime.
- One who provides help after commission of the crime is considered to be an "accessory after the fact" and is not vicariously liable for the target crime.
- Typically, accessory after the fact is liable directly (not vicariously) for a separate crime, such as "obstructing justice."
3) Vicarious Liability for Felony Murder: a person who kills while committing a felony, is a felon and is directly liable for murder. However, a co-felon who didn't commit the killing, will still be vicariously liable for the murder provided that victim's death was reasonably foreseeable. The following factors are relevant for co-felon's vicarious liability for felony murder:
- The felonies which may trigger liability are usually burglary, robbery, kidnapping, rape, arson, as well as other inherently dangerous felonies.
- Commission, as well as attempt to commit, a felony during which death results triggers liability for murder.
- If death occurs after a completed felony, vicarious liability for murder may no longer exists.
Seeking Help from an Attorney
If you suspect that you may be vicariously liable for crime(s) that you haven't personally committed, an advice from qualified criminal defense attorney is your first step in the right direction towards understanding of your situation. A qualified criminal defense attorney may advice you about the type and level of your liability, implicated offense(s), justifications and excuses (i.e., various types of defenses), as well as any mitigating circumstances. It is important to seek timely legal help to ensure that you and your defense attorney can establish successful defense strategy early on.
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Last Modified: 08-28-2013 11:59 AM PDT
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