To begin with, criminal liability is needed to prove that a defendant is guilty of a crime. In order to find a person criminally liable, a court usually needs to prove two things: First, that the person committed the criminal act in question (“conduct”); and secondly, that they did so with the required criminal mindset (“intent”). 

Accomplice liability allows the court to find a person criminally liable for acts committed by a different person.  If a person aids, assists, or encourages another in the commission of a crime, they are said to be an “accomplice” to the crime. The person who actually commits the act is called the “principal.” The crime for which an accomplice provides assistance is called the “target crime”.

Thus, when determining what is accomplice liability and criminal liability, a court needs to examine factors the conduct and intent of both the principal and the accomplice. 

What Is Needed to Determine Accomplice Liability?

When determining accomplice liability, a court will review several factors. These include information regarding the accomplice’s:

  • Intent:  The accomplice must have intended that the “target crime” be in fact committed up to completion
  • Scope of Liability:  The accomplice will be guilty of the target crime, as well as any other foreseeable crimes that may be committed during the commission of the target crime

Also, the accomplice needs to provide active aid, counsel, encouragement, or assistance toward the commission of the crime. Thus, if a person is present at the scene of a crime, but takes no active steps toward assisting the perpetrator, they will likely not be found an accomplice. 

In addition, the principal needs to be aware that the other person is helping them in the commission of a crime. If the principal doesn’t know of the other person’s assistance, accomplice liability will not be found.

What Are Some Examples of Accomplice Liability?

Some examples that demonstrate what is accomplice liability and criminal liability may include:

  • Serving as a “get-away” driver
  • Being a “lookout” for cops and witnesses while the crime is being committed
  • Loaning money, weapons, or other objects for use in the commission of the crime
  • Encouraging the principal to complete the crime

Also, accomplice and criminal liability can be found for aid that is given before the crime is completed, as well as after.

What Happens If the Accomplice Withdraws Their Support?

In some cases, accomplice liability may be negated (cancelled) if the accomplice withdraws their support before the crime is completed. This depends on the nature of the aid that the accomplice contributed in the first place.

Under most state laws, if the accomplice provided mere encouragement in the form of words, they will not be held liable if they repudiate or discourage the principal from completing the crime. However, if the accomplice went beyond mere encouragement and provided active, physical assistance in the crime, they will need to attempt to neutralize any further commission of the crime. 

Thus, “withdrawal” is a common defense that is raised when determining what is accomplice liability and criminal liability.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Accomplice Liability and Criminal Liability?

If you are involved in any way with accomplice liability charges, you should seek legal assistance immediately. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help determine whether you are liable as an accomplice, and whether any defenses may be raised in your favor. You may wish to hire a criminal defense attorney in your area for legal advice and representation in court.