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Accomplice Liability in New Jersey

In New Jersey, people can be subjected to a criminal charge even though s/he did not actively participate in an offense.

The criminal code in New Jersey establishes standards for accountability for not only an individual’s own conduct but also the actions of other people. An individual is responsible for the conduct of another person where the defendant:

  • causes an innocent individual to commit the criminal act;
  • is an accomplice in the commission of the crime; or
  • conspires with another person to commit the criminal offense.

Someone who aids and abets with the intent that a crime be committed can be found guilty on accomplice liability. Under the New Jersey criminal code, an accomplice is only guilty of the same crime as the principal actor if the accomplice had the same state of mind as the principal. A defendant’s state of mind is an essential element in some crimes. If the accomplice does not have the required state of mind for a particular crime, then the accomplice cannot be found guilty of that crime. For instance, the crime of robbery is a specific intent crime in New Jersey. This means for a person to be found guilty of robbery, s/he must act with the specific intent to steal.

There are many ways to help someone commit a crime, either before the actual crime, during the crime, or after the crime. An accessory after the fact is someone who assists a criminal knowing that a criminal committed a crime. For example, someone who helps a criminal escape by not calling the police is an accessory after the fact. Another example is someone who allows the criminal to transfer stolen funds to his/her bank account to hide assets taken from the victim.

An accessory before the fact is someone who assists a criminal in planning a crime. For example, if someone not at a crime scene assists in a robbery or killing, by purchasing the supplies or writing a map, the person may be just as guilty of the robbery or killing as the actual perpetrators.

If a person is an accomplice, but later changes his/her mind in helping the people commit a crime, the person can use termination as a defense. For termination to be a defense, the renunciation must be complete and voluntary. The individual must completely abandon efforts to commit the offense or prevent others from committing the crime.

When charged with accomplice liability, there may be a blame game between the participants, with each person out for him/herself in getting the other people charged in order to reduce his/her own liability. A defendant should engage a criminal defense attorney with no conflicts of interest to advise in this complicated deal bargaining process.

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