Accomplice liability in New York State

Accomplice liability in New York State

Imagine this scenario:

You and your best friend are at a trendy Manhattan bar when he sees his ex-girlfriend with someone new. A confrontation ends with your buddy punching out his replacement. The police arrive, and before long your friend is at 100 Center Street, awaiting arraignment for assault in the third degree.

And so are you.

True, you never actually touched the victim. All you did was yell verbal comments at him while your friend beat him up. But now you need a criminal defense attorney, thanks to New York Penal Law Section 20.00, which expressly states that one person is liable for the acts of another when, with the mental state required for the commission thereof, he  intentionally aids, commands, or requests someone else to engage in a crime.

Examples of activities that can be construed as the acts of an accomplice include:

  •     Shouting at and taunting a victim who is being beaten
  •     Driving the getaway car after an armed robbery
  •     Leaving a door unlocked so friends can access the premises and burglarize it
  •     Loaning a weapon to someone while knowing it will be used to commit a crime

When it comes to criminal culpability and punishment, New York State law does not distinguish between the primary offender and the accomplice. Whatever penalty the principal receives can be also levied on an accomplice unless their defense attorney convinces the judge that he or she did not participate in the crime to the extent that New York law requires for accomplice liability, or that extenuating circumstances apply.

Most states have fairly broad accomplice liability statutes. In some instances, mere knowledge of the offense is enough to get you charged as an accomplice. New York requires that you actively participate in the purported crime with the required intent.

In one case, Matter of Kadeem W. (2003), a teenaged boy was charged with assault after his friend shot a pellet gun at a housing complex security guard. While he did not possess nor fire the weapon,  he allegedly taunted the guard both before and after his friend shot him with a pellet gun. The court ruled that the young defendant met the definition of an accomplice and was therefore criminally liable for the conduct of the shooter.

Federal law has a similar take on accomplice liability. 18 U.S.C. §2 expressly states that anyone who commits an offense against the United States government or aids in or procures its commission can be punished as a principal.

Anyone who is at risk of being charged as an accomplice to a crime should consult with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney who can help them present mitigating or exculpatory evidence. No one accused of aiding a criminal should make a statement to law enforcement without engaging an attorney first. Julie Rendelman is a criminal defense attorney with over 20 years of experience practicing law. She offers free consultations at 212-951-1232 and is committed to representing clients whether they have already been charged with a crime and those that are concerned that they may be the subject of a criminal investigation.