Complicity: You may be liable for a crime you didn’t commit
Nyman Gibson Miralis | 23.03.2015
Keywords: Complicity, Crime, Law, Liability
The concept of complicity can make a person criminally responsible for a crime physically committed by another person. So even though a person may not have directly committed the offence in question, their actions before, during or after the commission of an offence may make them liable for criminal punishment.
A ‘principle’ or the ‘principle offender’ is the person who actually commits the crime.
If a person buys a gun and uses it to rob a store, for example, that person is the principle offender, because they have actually committed the offence of armed robbery.
Accessory before the fact
An accessory before the fact is a person who is not present during the commission of the crime, but has intentionally encouraged or assisted the principle offender to commit the offence.
The fact that a person knew that the principle intended to commit a particular crime does not in itself mean that the person is guilty of being an accessory before the fact. The Crown must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the person intentionally encouraged or assisted the principle in the preparations for the commission of the crime.
If a person gives the principal offender money to buy a gun knowing that it will be used to commit an armed robbery, then that person could be guilty of being an accessory before the fact, if the principal offender then goes on to commit the crime.
Accessory after the fact
A person can be considered as an accessory after the fact where the person knowingly assists a principle after the commission of a crime.
The Crown must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, both the commission of the crime by the principle, and that the person assisted the principle knowing that the crime had been committed.
A person who knows that an armed robbery has been committed and who disposes of the gun could be guilty of being an accessory after the fact to armed robbery.
Joint Criminal Liability
A joint criminal enterprise exists where two or more people reach an understanding or agreement that they will commit a crime. The agreement does not need to be in words, and can be inferred from the actions or circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence.
It does not matter whether the agreed crime is committed by only one or some of the participants; all of the people in the joint criminal enterprise are equally guilty of committing the principle offence regardless of the actual part played in its commission.
The Crown must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, both that the crime which was the subject of the agreement was in fact committed and that the particular person was a part of the agreement.
The getaway driver at the scene of an armed robbery can, for example, be found to be a part of a joint criminal enterprise. Even though that person was not personally armed and did not physically rob anyone, they still may be found guilty of the principle offence of armed robbery by joint criminal enterprise.
Extended Common Purpose
If, during the commission of a joint criminal enterprise, one of the participant’s commits an additional offence that was not originally agreed to, the concept of extended common purpose can make all the participants of the agreement liable for the additional offence.
For example, a group of people might plan to commit the crime of armed robbery where a gun was to be used for the purpose of threatening the bank teller. If during the commission of the robbery one of the offenders shoots and wounds the bank teller, all the participants in the group may be held liable for the more serious offence of armed robbery with wounding.
For a person to be found guilty of the additional offence, the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the person foresaw the possibility that this crime might be committed in carrying out the joint criminal enterprise.