Criminal Responsibility–An Overview

Other people, besides perpetrators of a crime (principal), can be held responsible for a crime they didn’t commit. Such people have different references in different jurisdictions, such as accomplices, accessories, aiders, or abettors. A person becomes an accomplice if they intentionally consciously act in a manner likely to assist, aid, help, or assist another party commit a crime.

Although accomplices typically do not participate in the criminal act, they’re considered equally responsible for the crime committed by law. Criminal charges attract serious punishments, penalties, or consequences and that’s why it’s important to seek legal advice from a criminal attorney in Toronto.

Legal Liability in Criminal Law

Accomplices vs. Principals

Accomplices bear equal responsibility for a crime with principals because the law assumes that responsible citizens should help avert imminent crimes or report perpetrators of crimes to relevant authorities. In other words, assisting a principal means that the accomplice had a criminal intent–a primary element for sustaining prosecution in criminal law. A person will be conjoined to a crime if their actions have the following effects:

  • Helping the principal flee the crime scene;
  • Distracting security or law enforcement;
  • Providing the principal with the tools needed to actualize their intentions;
  • Facilitating a crime, and more.

Common examples of accomplices’ can include getaway drivers, informers, or lookouts. Accomplices can be charged and convicted of a crime even if the principal is not caught, charged, or convicted of the same crime.

Other Crime Enablers

Accessories to Crimes

An accessory to a crime is a person who voluntarily, knowingly, and consciously helps in the commission of a crime. But isn’t that the definition of an accomplice? The two terms–accomplices and accessories, share the same definition but they have a slight difference.

The difference is that an accomplice assists the principal on-site while accessories need not be present at the crime scene to be legally liable for the crime. Additionally, the penalties preferred for accessories to crimes are fewer and less severe.

Criminal Conspirators

Criminal conspiracy occurs when the conspirator and the principal, accessory to a crime, or accomplice plan (conspire) to commit a crime in the future. Criminal liability can arise even if the plans aren’t executed. Why? Because criminal intent arises once the conspiring parties agree to commit a crime. Put differently, criminal conspiracy occurs when the parties planning to commit a criminal act to reach a common agreement.

Each of the conspirators is considered equally responsible for the crime, and each of them will be treated as a principal.

In criminal conspiracy, the prosecution must prove that at least one of the accused party’s actions had criminal intent even if their actions are not criminal per se. The prosecution only needs to prove that the accused persons were preparing to commit a crime. These could be unordinary actions, such as renting a getaway car, buying advanced communication devices to execute a robbery, and more. Confining a meeting to plan a crime is sufficient proof of an overt act, even if the conspirators met in a public environment.

Vicarious Liability in Criminal Law

The principle of vicarious liability states that a person can be guilty of the criminal actions of another party. Although the principal is the primary perpetrator, other people can be held liable for the same crime based on how they’re related to the principal. Having said that, vicariously liability can arise in relations between:

  • Parents and children;
  • Husband and wives;
  • Car owners and drivers;
  •  Employers and employees, and others.

Criminal Law Defenses

Criminal defenses are used to limit the defendant’s liability or to defeat claims brought by the prosecution. Defendants have a constitutional right to defend themselves using a legal professional or by themselves. There are four primary defenses in criminal law– innocence, self-defence, insanity, or constitutional violations. However, the application of these defenses can vary by case and that’s why it’s important to consult a criminal attorney to evaluate your case and recommend the appropriate defense strategy.

Innocence Defense

This simply means the accused didn’t commit the alleged crime and hence, they’re innocent. Unfortunately, it takes more than claiming that you’re innocent. Your attorney must build a strong defense to prove that innocence by engaging key witnesses, experts, and any evidence that can be used to prove innocence.

Self Defence

Self-defense is applicable in crimes involving violence, such as assault, robbery with violence, and others. In this defense strategy, the defendant typically claims that took drastic measures, such as using force or violence to avert imminent risk or threat presented by an oppressor.

Insanity Defense

The burden falls on the defendant when using this defense. The defendant’s lawyer must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their client suffered a mental illness when the crime was committed.

Constitutional Violations

The defendant can evade prosecution if their constitutional rights were violated at any point in their cases. Remember arrests and investigations should be procedural. Otherwise, this defense can come into play.

Principals are considered the primary perpetrators of crimes. However, helping a principal, in any way, to commit a crime attracts equal responsibility for the same crime.

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