Written by attorney Jason W. Swindle

Party To A Crime - Georgia Law

Party to a Crime in Georgia As a young boy, I remember many times when my grandfather and I would ride from his farm in Berrien County to Ray City in order to pick up some things from town. I would also "pick up some things" from Papa James along the way as well in the form of stories, political perspectives, and always a little advice. One of the things that I distinctly remember about one of our trips was him warning me about the dangers of hanging around the wrong people. Papa James would often illustrate for me what he meant by this. He provided the example of the guy who was in the gas station with his buddies when one of his buddies decided to steal a piece of candy. Papa James would point out that I might not even know that my friend stole the candy, but that I would be in trouble nonetheless. He called this type of trouble "guilt by association". Well, I must say that he was mostly right about this. As Judge Al Johnson often says, "Your friends can get you in more trouble than you can get yourself into." However, the state of Georgia has detailed the law governing these types of circumstances and calls this collection of law "Party to a Crime." O.C.G.A. 16-2-20 provides that: (a) Every person concerned in the commission of a crime is a party thereto and may be charged with and convicted of commission of the crime. (b) A person is concerned in the commission of a crime only if he: (1) Directly commits the crime; (2) Intentionally causes some other person to commit the crime under such circumstances that the other person is not guilty of any crime either in fact or because of legal incapacity; (3) Intentionally aids or abets in the commission of the crime; or (4) Intentionally advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to commit the crime. I can tell you based on my experience that most people get in trouble based on subsections (3) and (4). These elements are very broad and almost can be a basis to convict based solely on "guilt by association". The Georgia Court of Appeals has also explained the definition of party to a crime in the case of Jordan v. State, 281 Ga. App. 419 (2006). The Court held that "A participant to a crime may be convicted although he is not the person who directly commits the crime. A person who intentionally aids or abets in the commission of a crime or intentionally advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to commit the crime may be convicted of the crime. Mere presence at the scene is not sufficient to convict one of being a party to a crime, but criminal intent may be inferred from conduct before, during, and after the commission of the crime. Unfortunately, many people do not understand that they can be convicted by participating in a crime in very minor way. I often give the example of the armed robbery where you have a person in the getaway car that doesn't even go into the store. Under Georgia law, the getaway driver can also be charged with armed robbery under the party to a crime legal theory. Probably the easiest way to avoid any sorts of trouble involving party to a crime criminal liability is to take Papa James' sage advice. Think about whether you can ever be accused of "guilty by association".

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