You and your friend are Busted! You saw everything, but did nothing – are you guilty?

Principal, or Accomplice, and Liability are three aspects of being guilty everyone should know – are you guilty?

You and a friend walk in to Walmart. The two of you are walking through the video game section of the store and stop to look at the latest Xbox games. Out of nowhere your buddy picks up on of the games and hides it under his shirt. You don’t say anything. As the two of you are walking out of the store security grabs you both, searches your friend, and finds the game under his shirt. The police show up and your friend is arrested for theft. Are you guilty of theft as well? In this scenario the answer is no. Sure, you were there, you watched him take it, and you knew he stole it. However, under Florida law, mere proximity to a crime does not make you guilty of committing it. In this case you are not a thief.

Let’s mix it up a little bit. As you and your friend are looking at the Xbox games your friend asks you to go to the end of the aisle and keep an eye out for security. You go to the end of the aisle, look around, don’t see security, and give him a thumbs-up. He puts the game under his shirt. As you guys are leaving security stops you and finds the game under your friend’s shirt. The police show up and he gets arrested for theft. What about you? You never touched the game, you didn’t carry it out of the store, and the idea wasn’t yours. Doesn’t matter – you are as guilty as your friend who actually stole it.

Florida Statute 777.011, Principal in the First Degree, states:

  • Whoever commits any criminal offense against the state, whether felony or misdemeanor, or aids, abets, counsels, hires, or otherwise procures such offense to be committed, and such offense is committed or is attempted to be committed, is a principal in the first degree and may be charged, convicted, and punished as such, whether he or she is or is not actually or constructively present at the commission of such offense.

In simple terms this means that if you help in any way to commit the crime you are as guilty as the person who actually committed it. In the examples given above there was one big difference: in the second scenario you acted as a look out. In that second scenario you “aided and abetted,” or helped, your buddy commit a crime and therefore you have now committed a crime as well and will soon find yourself in front of a judge.

We can all wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you find yourself with somebody doing something illegal make sure you don’t say or do anything that makes you as liable as they are for the crime. If you have a question about “principal liability” give our office a call and we’ll discuss it in detail…

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