Can You Be Held Criminally Liable for Another Person’s Crime?
People often want to know if they could potentially face any charges if their friend committed a crime and they were somehow involved. For example, could someone be criminally liable if they discussed with a friend the best way to rob a particular liquor store and then the friend actually went out and robbed that liquor store? Under Minnesota law someone could certainly face charges in this situation under the theory of aiding or abetting defined in Minnesota Statute § 609.05 Subd. 1.
Aiding and Abetting Liability
Under Minnesota law a person can be held criminally liable for a crime committed by someone else if they aided or abetted the crime. Aiding and abetting is defined as intentionally aiding, advising, hiring, counseling, conspiring with, or otherwise procuring the other person to commit a crime. This means that if someone helps a friend plan a burglary, they can also be held criminally liable for the burglary. Additionally, someone who hires a hitman to kill their spouse could also be held criminally liable for the death if their spouse if the hit is successful. Due to the relatively broad nature of Minnesota’s aiding and abetting statute, nearly anything that helps someone to commit a crime could be the basis for aiding and abetting liability. The best way to ensure you avoid any criminal liability is to avoid any involvement whatsoever in any discussions or planning of any criminal activity.
Pursuant to Minnesota Statute § 609.05 Subd. 2, a person can be held criminally liable for certain crimes even if they did not play a part in planning that particular crime or otherwise assisting in its completion. Under expansive liability a person can be held criminally liable for any other crimes committed with trying to commit the intended crime if it was reasonably foreseeable that such other crimes could occur. This means that if you help your friend plan the robbery of a liquor store and in the course of the robbery your friend assaults a liquor store employee, you could also be held liable for the assault because it was reasonably foreseeable that something like that could occur during the course of a robbery. Alternatively, if you and your friend plan to check parked cars to see if they are unlocked to steal things out of them and unbeknownst to you, your friend brings a gun and its firing results in someone’s death, you are likely not liable because that outcome was not reasonably foreseeable.
Abandonment of Criminal Purpose
If you find yourself in a situation where you believe you could potentially be criminally liable for aiding or abetting a crime, there is a way to ensure you stay out of trouble. Minnesota Statute § 609.05 Subd. 3 provides that you can avoid criminal liability for aiding or abetting a crime if you abandon the crime and make a reasonable effort the prevent the crime. This means that if you cease being involved with the criminal plot and take an affirmative step to prevent it, you will at the very least have an argument that you are not liable due to your abandonment of the crime. There is no set definition for what constitutes a reasonable effort to prevent the commission of the crime, but alerting law enforcement about the crime and informing the intended victim would probably both qualify depending on the specific circumstances.
What if the person who actually committed the crime doesn’t get convicted?
Unfortunately, under Minnesota Statute § 609.05 Subd. 4, you can be convicted for aiding and abetting even if the other person who actually committed the crimes is never convicted, is convicted of some lesser degree or the crime, or is convicted of a completely different crime based on the same conduct. This means that if you help your friend plan a burglary, you can be found guilty of aiding and abetting the burglary even if your friend was found not guilty or if he was found guilty of a different crime like theft.
If you have been charged with aiding and abetting or believe you are in a position where you could be held criminally liable for the crimes of someone else, you need legal representation right away. Contact the knowledgeable attorneys at the BK Law Group for your free consultation today.