An accomplice is someone who intentionally assists the primary party in committing a crime. At common law, this type of activity is usually described as "aiding and abetting" or encouraging, procuring, soliciting, or advising the commission of the crime.

What Types of Acts Give Rise to Liability?

There are three categories of assistance:

  • Physical conduct
    • Providing an instrumentality
    • Driving a getaway car
    • Casing
  • Omission
    • Failing to prevent the commission of the crime, if the person had a duty to do so
  • Psychological influence

The accomplice’s acts must in fact assist in the commission of the crime. If, for example, the accomplice encourages the commission of the crime, but the primary party does not know of this encouragement, there is no accomplice liability. However, even trivial assistance will suffice for accomplice liability. Also, even if the second party’s assistance was not necessary for the primary party to commit the crime, the second party would still be liable.

Omission to prevent a crime is only a criminal act when a person had a duty, or was expected to act but failed to do so. For example, if a nurse knows that a doctor is abusing an elderly patient but fails to properly report the abuse, the nurse may be just as liable as the doctor for the abuse.

What Is the Pinkerton Doctrine?

In Pinkerton v. United States, the Supreme Court held that a co-conspirator is responsible for any criminal act committed by others in the conspiracy if:

  • The criminal act falls within the scope of the conspiracy; or
  • The criminal act is a foreseeable consequence of the conspiratorial agreement.

The scope of the act refers to time and location. The members of a conspiracy cannot be liable for another crime if the conspirators had only agreed to perform one specific crime, but then a member of the conspiracy committed another crime after the original crime was already over.

Determining if a criminal act was foreseeable measures the relationship of the crime to the conspiracy agreement. If a conspirator clearly goes off and pursues his own agenda during or after the agreed crime, than liability for the other conspirators can be cut off.

Do I Need a Criminal Law Attorney?

An experienced criminal law attorney would be able to help you put a case together and how to represent you in court if you have been accused of being an accomplice to a crime.