§ 30.02 Accomplice Liability: General Principles

§ 30.02 Accomplice Liability: General Principles

[A] General Rules

[1] Definition of an "Accomplice"

Subject to substantial clarification below, S ("secondary party") is an accomplice of P ("primary party") in the commission of an offense if he intentionally assists P to engage in the conduct that constitutes the crime, i.e., if S intends to assist in the crime and, in fact, assists.5 The term "assists" is used here as a general term to encompass many forms of conduct, including aiding, abetting, encouraging, soliciting, or advising the commission of the offense.

[2] Criminal Responsibility of an Accomplice: Derivative Liability

Accomplice liability is conceptualized as derivative in nature.6 That is, an accomplice is not guilty of an independent offense of "aiding and abetting";7 instead, as the secondary party, he derives his liability from the primary party with whom he has associated himself. The primary party's acts become his acts. In very general terms, the accomplice may be convicted of any offense committed by the primary party that is the result of the accomplice's intentional assistance.8

For example, if S intentionally assists P to rob V, S is liable for the robbery committed by P. If P fails in his effort to rob V, but is guilty of attempted robbery, S is guilty of the attempted robbery.9 If P's conduct does not proceed sufficiently far to constitute any offense, S is guilty of no offense as an accomplice;10 because P committed no substantive crime, there is no liability for S to derive from P.11

[B] Theoretical Foundations of Accomplice Liability

The doctrine of accomplice liability is such an old and now accepted part of American criminal law jurisprudence that few observers focus on why a person who does not directly engage in conduct that constitutes an offense should be held accountable for the wrongful behavior of others.

At first glance, the premise that a person may be held criminally responsible for the conduct of another should prove surprising, if not also disturbing.12 After all, the concept of personal, as distinguished from vicarious, responsibility is "deeply rooted" in criminal law jurisprudence.13 Yet Anglo-American courts (and now statutes) impute the acts of the primary party to the secondary actor. That is, once a person is deemed to be an accomplice of another, his personal identity is subsumed in that of the primary party.

There are at least two ways to attempt to defend accomplice liability. First, accomplice liability...

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