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I Wasn’t The Shooter” is Not a Defense: Principles of Criminal Liability

January 23rd, 2015 at 10:59 am

Illinois defense attorney, Illinois criminal lawyer, conspiracy to commit a crime, While every criminal case is different, some situations happen over and over again. One thing we see all too often is the situation where a person tries to get him or herself out of trouble by telling the police that he or she was at the scene of the crime but was not the primary culprit, thinking this partially absolves them of criminal liability. It is totally reasonable that people would think this would decrease the amount of trouble they are in — after all, the lookout at the bank robbery doesn’t seem like she is nearly as bad as the co-defendant who shot the bank guard. Unfortunately, while that may make sense, it is not the law. Instead, that lookout will be in just as much trouble as the person who shot the guard.

Accountability for the Conduct of Another

This situation presents an issue of accountability. Under Illinois statute, a person is accountable for another person’s actions under various circumstances. The part of the statute that comes up most often, however, says:

When two or more persons engage in a common criminal design or agreement, any acts in the furtherance of that common design committed by one party are considered to be the acts of all parties to the common design or agreement and all are equally responsible for the consequences of those further acts.

What this means is that when two people agree to go commit a crime, each of them becomes completely criminally responsible for everything the other one does in the furtherance of that crime. For example, imagine two cousins who decide to break into a house to steal some marijuana. Someone sees them and calls the police. One of the cousins gets into a high-speed chase with the police and winds up almost hitting an officer. That other cousin, who never intended to do anything other than steal and smoke some pot, is now on the hook for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

Mere Presence at the Scene Is Not Enough, but It Is Still a Bad Idea

The statute also says that mere presence at the scene of a crime in and of itself does not make one accountable for that offense. But, being at the scene can be considered with other circumstances in order to determine whether one should be held accountable. One common theory of accountability for those at the scene is the theory that they are a part of a “show of force.” Prosecutors argue that the person at the scene was helping the primary actor commit a crime by adding to his or her intimidation factor by being present. And unfortunately, sometimes this argument works.

The Special Case of Felony Murder

Another related common misconception is that in order to be guilty of first-degree murder, one has to have premeditated a killing. That may be the case in some states, but it is not the case in Illinois. In Illinois the murder statute says it is first-degree murder when one person kills another person while attempting or committing a forcible felony. This, combined with the accountability laws, means that in our bank robbery example the lookout can be convicted of first-degree murder even though she was not even in the bank where the killing occurred.

Call a Rolling Meadows Criminal Defense Attorney

Being charged with a crime can be scary, stressful, and confusing. It can be even more confusing if you are charged as having “acted with” someone else to commit a crime. If this happens to you, you will need the help of an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley at (847)394-3200.

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