Scope of Accomplice Liability

Terms:


Foreseen:
An occurrence that is known will occur or expected to occur during a sequence of events.

Foreseeable:
An occurrence that a reasonable person would anticipate would have a substantial possibility of happening during a sequence of events.


There is also an issue as to the actual scope of an accomplice’s criminal liability. The traditional rule says that an accomplice can be criminally liable for all foreseeable consequences of his actions. In other words, the accomplice can be held criminally liable for both the crime that he actually aided or encouraged, and also for all other crimes that were a reasonably foreseeable result of the original crime. See People v. Croy, 41 Cal. 3d 1 (1985). For example:

EXAMPLE (1): Homer and Marge put together a plan to rob the First National Bank of Springfield. Marge cases the bank and draws up floor plans for Homer and Homer goes out and buys two handguns that he will use during the robbery. On the day of the robbery, Homer goes into the bank to carry out the crime while Marge sits in the getaway car waiting for Homer to return. Homer robs the bank. During his escape, he shoots and kills a security guard who is blocking the door. In this case, Marge will be considered an accomplice for both the robbery and the murder because, even though the murder was not a part of their initial plan, it was a reasonably foreseeable result of the robbery.

EXAMPLE (2): Homer and Marge put together a plan to rob the First National Bank of Springfield. Marge cases the bank and draws up floor plans for Homer and Homer goes out and buys two handguns that he will use during the robbery. On the day of the robbery, Homer goes into the bank to carry out the crime while Marge sits in the getaway car waiting for Homer to return. While the bank manager is putting the money into a bag, Homer rapes one of the bank tellers at gunpoint. In this situation, Marge will be considered an accomplice for the robbery but not for the rape because the rape was not a foreseeable result of the robbery.

The Model Penal Code, which some jurisdictions follow, breaks from the traditional rule and says that an accomplice is liable only for the crimes that were actually contemplated by the perpetrator. In other words, had Homer’s plan for robbing the bank actually included killing the security guard, then Marge would be an accomplice to the murder as well as to the robbery. However, if Homer’s plan did not include killing the security guard, the Model Penal Code would not consider Marge an accomplice to the murder. To put it another way, the Model Penal Code will only attach liability to an accomplice if a crime is actually foreseen; it is not enough for it to be simply foreseeable. See State v. Bacon, 658 A.2d 54 (Vt. 1995).