The term, “guilt by association” is a colloquial expression generalizing the notion that if a person associates with criminals, then that person, himself, is criminally culpable. Although this is not a legal principle, it is roughly akin to legal doctrines upon which criminal statutes are based in each of the 50 states. To bring criminal liability, the associative activity must somehow be linked to a crime.

Accessory before the fact

A person might be held accountable for the crime committed by another. The law recognizes two types of offenders: principles, who actually commit the crime, and accessories. An accessory is defined by RCW 9A.08.020, which provides that a “person is an accomplice of another person in the commission of a crime if. . . [w]ith knowledge that it will promote or facilitate the commission of the crime, he or she . . . [s]olicits, commands, encourages, or requests such other person to commit it; or . . . [a]ids or agrees to aid such other person in planning or committing it.”

Common examples of accomplices include those who fund firearms to be used in a crime or provide the firearms directly, provide a dwelling to store drugs or to accommodate drug transactions, and act as lookouts to warn criminal actors of police approach at a crime scene.

Under certain circumstances, a person could incur criminal culpability merely for providing impromptu verbal encouragement to an offender during a crime in progress. A frequently occurring example of this is a person who encourages an offender who physically beats a victim.

Accessory after the fact

If a person acts to aid an offender known by the actor to have committed a crime in such a fashion as to provide a safe haven for or impugn the offender from arrest, prosecution, or sentencing, the person offering aid shall be criminally liable as an accessory after the fact.

Equal Culpability for crew members

When criminal units consist of more than one person, a division of labor is created and each actor might have different tasks in order to act in concert and carry out the crime. In such a scheme, each offender will be held liable for the acts of the others. A basic example is a two man crew in which a gunman enters a gas station to commit a robbery and another drives a getaway car. If the robbery goes bad and the gunman discharges the firearm with deadly results, the getaway driver will be held criminally liable for the murder of the cashier, even though he had no intention of doing anything but driving.

Get Legal Representation

If you or a loved one has been assigned culpability for the crime committed by another, you need experienced legal assistance on your side. The prosecuting attorneys will work hard to demonstrate a nexus between your actions and the crime in question, and to convince a jury that you had knowledge of the crime or the intent of the principal. You need attorneys to work even harder to demonstrate your defense. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at The Nahajski Firm, in Seattle, (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation.