Can someone be convicted of a crime just for being present?

What’s it take to make someone an accomplice to a crime in the eyes of the law? Is merely being present when a crime is committed enough to make someone legally accountable for another party’s actions?

Nearly every state has some law that holds accomplices – anybody who “aids and abets”  another in a crime – responsible for the crimes of their associates, even when their participation was arguably minimal. This makes the secondary player in the crime an “accessory,” and they can be punished just as harshly as the main actor(s).

What makes someone an accessory to a crime in Alabama?

In Alabama, Code 13A-2-23 says that an individual can be charged as an accessory to a crime when they intentionally:

  • “Procures, induces or causes” another person to commit an offense
  • “Help, assist or facilitate the commission of a crime”
  • Encourages, supports or stands ready to help the other party with their crime
  • Fails to try to stop the crime from taking place when they’re legally required to do so

What does this mean in practical terms? Imagine, for a moment, that someone is about to get into a violent altercation with someone else. Generally speaking, an ordinary individual wouldn’t be considered an accessory to a crime if they just happened to be present. They may have been simply taken by surprise by the whole thing and unable to react fast enough to do anything, even call for help.

However, they could be charged as an accessory for “egging on” one of the fighters or offering to be their backup. They would also be considered an accessory if, for example, they blocked the victim’s escape route and kept them from fleeing from the fight. If that person died from their injuries, the accomplice could be charged with some form of homicide, even if they never raised a fist.

Someone can be charged as an accessory for just about any crime, but prosecutors often use this charge when a victim has been seriously injured or killed. Since the stakes are quite high, that makes it particularly important to turn to someone with experience as all defense options are explored.

Attorney Brad Hawley

Attorney Brad HawleyAttorney Brad Hawley possesses years of practical experience focused on bankruptcy, civil and criminal defense. He has prosecuted and defended clients in state court, and is a former enlisted member of the United States Army. Brad is driven by his desire to help people that have been hurt by the legal system, and is dedicated to fixing injustices he sees around him. [ Attorney Bio ]

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