§ 30.01 Complicity: Overview to Accomplice and Conspiratorial Liability

§ 30.01 Complicity: Overview to Accomplice and Conspiratorial Liability1

This chapter considers multi-party criminal conduct or, more specifically, the circumstances under which a person who does not personally commit a proscribed harm may be held accountable for the conduct of another person with whom he has associated himself. Complicity doctrine is complex and frequently criticized.2

Two bases of complicity are considered here. First and foremost, a person may be held accountable for the conduct of another person if he assists (as that term is more fully explained in § 30.04) the other in committing an offense. Liability of this nature is called "accomplice" or "accessory" liability. Second, in the majority of jurisdictions, a person who has conspired with another may be held accountable for the conduct of his co-conspirator who commits a crime in furtherance of their agreement. In the latter case, the mere existence of the conspiracy is sufficient to justify liability for the other's conduct; assistance in commission of the crime is not required. Although there is substantial overlap between accomplice and conspiracy liability, they are distinct concepts.3

The common law of complicity used special terms to distinguish among parties to offenses, as described in § 30.03. For purposes of clarity, however, two general terms will also be used in this chapter—the "primary party" (P, for short), and the "secondary party" (S). The "primary party" is the person who personally commits the physical acts that constitute an offense. For example, in a criminal homicide, P is the one whose conduct directly causes the death of V, e.g., the person who shoots or poisons V.4 Any person who is not the primary party, but who is associated with him in commission of the offense, is a "secondary party." Generally speaking, S is the person who assists P to commit the offense. S's liability for P's acts is the focus of this chapter.



[1] See generally George P. Fletcher, Rethinking Criminal Law §§ 8.5-8.8 (1978); Glanville Williams, Criminal Law: The General Part §§ 118-41 (2d ed. 1961); Joshua Dressler, Reassessing the Theoretical Underpinnings of Accomplice Liability: New Solutions to an Old Problem, 37 Hastings L.J. 91 (1985); Michael Heyman, Losing All Sense of Just Proportion: The Peculiar Law of Accomplice Liability, 87 St. John's L. Rev. 129 (2013); Douglas Husak, Abetting a Crime, 33 Law & Phil. 41 (2014); Sanford H. Kadish, Complicity, Cause and Blame: A...

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