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Ball/Oberman Crim Law Casebook

Accomplice Liability

Most of the cases we have studied thus far have involved only one defendant. In reality, however, most criminal activity involves more than one actor, working together toward a criminal end. The law of accomplice liability governs the wide range of cases in which a person can be criminally liable for assisting another, even though they themselves do not commit the target crime. Accomplice liability is not a crime, but rather, is an alternative path to conviction--one that stands alongside direct liability and can be used to secure a conviction against a defendant who aided another in committing their crime. 

The challenge of accomplice liability lies in defining the scope and the extent of liability for one who did not, themselves, commit the relevant crime. In the cases below, you’ll see that the law places a heavy emphasis on mens rea, relying on evidence of intent to justify punishing the accomplice for a target offense committed by another. In addition, these cases surface the issue of blameworthiness, and should prompt you to consider not only when accomplice liability might attach, but also how far that liability might extend.