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Utah Code 76-2-202 - Accomplice Liability

Under Utah criminal law, a defendant charged, convicted, and punished for a crime, regardless of whether the defendant committed the crime directly or as an accomplice. Under Utah's accomplice liability statute, criminal responsibility and consequences can be the same both for the direct commission of a crime or for the conduct of another person.

Utah Code 76-2-202 states, "Every person, acting with the mental state required for the commission of an offense who directly commits the offense, who solicits, requests, commands, encourages, or intentionally aids another person to engage in conduct which constitutes an offense shall be criminally liable as a party for such conduct."

The statute provides criminal liability equally both for the person who "directly commits the offense" as well as the person who, as an accomplice, "solicits, requests, commands, encourages, or intentionally aids another person" to engage in criminal conduct. Because the statute makes no distinction in criminal liability between the accomplice and the person directly committing the offense, the penalties imposed for each can potentially be the same.

Consider the following hypothetical examples involving accomplice liability for criminal conduct.

Example: Accomplice Liability for Bank Robbery

Adam concocts a plan to rob a bank. Adam explains the plan to Brad, and asks Brad to drive him to the bank and wait outside while Adam goes in to commit the robbery. Brad decides that the robbery plan sounds good, and agrees to help Adam. Brad gets his car, and drives with Adam to the bank. Brad waits in the parking lot while Adam enters the bank. Adam waives a gun in the air, demands money from the teller, grabs the cash, and runs out to the parking lot. Adam jumps in the car, and shouts "I got the money. Let's get out of here." Brad then drives away with Adam.

In this scenario, Adam has "directly committed" the robbery, and could be charged with a first-degree felony aggravated robbery (for using a weapon in the commission of a robbery). Brad did not enter the bank, did not demand money, and did not use a weapon. But Brad shared the intent that the crime should be committed, and by acting as the getaway driver Brad "intentionally aided" Adam to engage in conduct that constituted the offense of aggravated robbery. Thus, Brad is equally liable as an accomplice for the charge of aggravated robbery.

Example: Accomplice Liability for Drug Possession

The following hypothetical drug deal is somewhat more complex, and involves multiple possibilities:

Chad is struggling with drug addiction, and asks his friend Darren to go purchase some marijuana for Chad. Darren does not know where to buy marijuana in Utah, so Chad makes a phone call to his favorite drug dealer and asks the dealer to meet Darren at the corner gas station. Darren goes down to the corner gas station at the appointed time, meets with the drug dealer, and buys a half-ounce of marijuana.

In this scenario, Darren is guilty for directly committing the misdemeanor crime of possession of marijuana. Chad never touched the marijuana or otherwise had possession of marijuana. But Chad may also be convicted of marijuana possession as an accomplice, because he "requested" that Darren commit the offense.

This scenario presents also presents the possibility of felony charges against both Darren and Chad for possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. Because Darren was purchasing the drugs for Chad, it appears that Darren intended to turn the marijuana over to Chad once the transaction was complete. Thus, when Chad took possession of the marijuana, he likely had the "intent to distribute" the drugs by giving them to Chad. Even though Darren did not have possession of the drugs and did not have the intent to distribute the marijuana after he received it from Chad, he could again be charged as an accomplice for asking Darren to commit the crime on his behalf.

Under this scenario, there is an additional charge that could be filed against Chad, based on Chad's phone call to his drug dealer. Utah law prohibits not only the actual distribution of a controlled substance, but also offering or arranging to distribute a controlled substance. By making a phone call to his favorite dealer, Chad is likely guilty of the felony crime of "arranging" the distribution of a controlled substance.

Example: Accomplice Liability for Shoplifting (Retail Theft)

Consider the following alternate scenarios involving allegations of shoplifting:

Two friends, Erin and Flo, are in a store together. Erin conceives of a plan to steal merchandise from the store, but says nothing to Flo about the plan. While Flo is engaged in conversation with a clerk (thus occupying the clerk's attention), Erin slips merchandise into her pocket. Flo knows nothing about what Erin has done. Erin and Flo leave the store together, without paying.

In this scenario, Flo has no knowledge of Erin's intent or plan. If she does have the necessary intent (i.e., does not intend to assist Erin in committing a retail theft), then even though her conduct ultimately did assist Erin in being able to successfully commit the crime, Flo would not be guilty as an accomplice.

This time, Erin tells Flo about her plan, and asks Flo to act as a lookout. Erin instructs Flo to whistle twice if she sees any employees coming. Flo agrees to act as the lookout, while Erin begins stuffing merchandise in her pockets. It turns out that all of the employees are on the other side of the store, and there is no one there to see what Erin is doing. Flo does not have to give any warning signals.

In this scenario, Flo did not come up with the plan. Flo did not solicit, request, or command Erin to commit the theft. Because the employees were not nearby, Flo's assistance (or aid) was unnecessary. But a prosecutor may still argue that Flo's agreement to help, together with her presence and willingness to assist as a lookout if needed, acted to "encourage" Erin to commit the theft. Thus, even this limited involvement could still result in Flo being found criminally liable for Erin's conduct.
 

Choosing a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Defense AttorneyA criminal charge can have serious consequences, whether you are convicted for directly committing the crime or as an accomplice. The processes involved in defending a criminal charge can be complex. Having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be critical to achieving a successful outcome.

Utah criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard has protected his clients' rights in thousands of serious felony and misdemeanor cases. His track record includes not guilty verdicts and dismissals in some of the most serious charges on the books in Utah.

Based in Salt Lake City, Mr. Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah. If you are facing criminal charges, contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.

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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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