by Paul E. Knost, Esq. on 10/12/11
In the State of Arizona, you can go to prison for a very long time for helping someone else commit a crime. Your help can be great or small... it does not matter. Your help can be planned or spur-of-the-moment... it does not matter. Your help might even be well-intentioned (in your own mind)... it does not matter. If you so much as lift a finger in aid of someone committing a crime, you are an accomplice.
"[A] person, other than a peace officer acting in his official capacity within the scope of his authority and in the line of duty, who with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of an offense:
Solicits or commands another person to commit the offense; or
Aids, counsels, agrees to aid or attempts to aid another person in planning or committing an offense.
Provides means or opportunity to another person to commit the offense."
Basically A.R.S. 13-301 is saying that, if you so much as lift a finger with the intention of helping a person commit a crime, then you are just as guilty of the crime as that person. This is the statute which lays the groundwork for accomplice liability in Arizona. The rest of Chapter 3 of Title 13 further solidifies the culpability of accomplices based on others' conduct.
There is an infinite variety of circumstances in which a person can be liable for a crime that another person actually commits. It would be impossible to list every set of circumstances in which a person could become an accomplice within the meaning of A.R.S. 13-301 and its sister provisions in Title 13. But let me give one example that comes up.
Two people commit a robbery, only one has a gun
This falls under (2) "Aids, counsels, agrees to aid or attempts to aid another person in planning or committing an offense."
A guy and his girlfriend walk into a convenience store. The guy wants to impress his girlfriend, so he pulls out a gun and tells the cashier to hand over all the money. The cashier opens the register, pulls out a few crumpled bank notes and hands them to him. The girlfriend, who thought they were only there to buy a corndog, is completely stunned and shocked that her boyfriend just robbed the cashier. In fact, she had no idea he had a gun. In the intensity of the moment, she decides to stick with him. She is scared and does not know what to do. She has never been in this situation before. They both run back to the car and the girlfriend drives. They go back to her house. She does not tell anyone what happened. The police find them and arrest them both the next day.
In this situation, bothof them will be charged with Armed Robbery, a Class 2 Dangerous Felony in Arizona. The girlfriend became an accomplice when she drove her boyfriend to safety after he robbed the place. If she can prove that he forced her to drive at gunpoint, she would have a defense of "duress." But otherwise, she will be charged as an accomplice. The only way she could avoid becoming an accomplice would be to refuse to help her boyfriend by driving. If he forced her to drive, then she would in effect become a kidnapping victim and would not be an accomplice. She would, however, have a duty to notify the police of what her boyfriend did as soon as she safely could. Anything less would earn her an accomplice designation in Arizona. If the jury finds them guilty, it's a mandatory sentence of 7 to 21 years in the Arizona prison system for both of them.
This is often a very sad situation where one person is more or less a tag-along to another much more dangerous person who is armed and commits the Armed Robbery. Often, the unarmed person is the girlfriend, or sometimes a younger sibling, or a kid from the neighborhood who likes to hang out with the criminally-oriented guy who likes to rob people. But if that person does anything whatsoever to aid the actual culprit, and that includes failing to immediately notify the police at first opportunity, then the person is an accomplice under Arizona law and will suffer the same consequences.
And, as I previously mentioned, that is but one example. The situations are infinite. Accomplice liability can come up when a person commits a crime and his/her love ones try to help clean up afterward. It can come up when a person agrees to lie in order to protect someone from being captured. The list goes on and on.
The best way to avoid becoming an accomplice: if someone you know has committed a crime, you must turn your back on that person and report them to the police at your first opportunity. It is no defense that the person is your family member or dear friend. Turn them in or be charged as their accomplice. Anything less and you will be facing a harsh punishment under Arizona's mandatory sentencing scheme.
For more on this topic, or to discuss your particular case, please feel free to give me a call at 623-936-1901 for a free confidential consultation.
God bless all of you!
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