At its most basic, criminal law has certain components to define liability for a criminal act.  The Latin terms, actus reas and mens rea refer to the physical act and mental state of criminal behavior.  In order to be found guilty, a person must have done something with intent.  Accomplice liability is one of those areas of law that carries a harsh punishment for someone who may not even do the crime.   This type of crime departs from the basic rule that you must have performed a physical act to be guilty of a crime.

The Illinois Legislature has codified accomplice liability under 720 ILCS 5/5-2.  This statute holds as many people accountable who are involved in a crime, whether they acted or not and whether they intended the crime be committed or not.  How is this so?  Don’t you need to at least have intent to commit a crime to be found guilty of it?  Not so under Illinois law.

The statute has three sections.  First, it holds an accomplice liable if he has the mental state required for the crime and causes another person to commit the crime.  The second section holds an accomplice liable if the underlying criminal statute says they are liable.  Lastly, the statute holds an accomplice liable for actions either before or during the commission of the offense that are intended to promote or facilitate the criminal acts.

This last section is the most broad because it holds someone accountable for aiding and abetting criminal conduct or attempting to aid in the planning of the crime.  This part would require intent, however, the statute goes further to eliminate the intent requirement by use of the common design rule.   This rule basically means that if two or more people have a plan or agreement to commit a crime, the acts of one are the acts of all and whether you can be held accountable for the consequences of any acts done to further the plan.

This law allows the State to punish everyone involved in a crime, even those who weren’t present at the commission of the crime so long as they were a part of the overall scheme and helped in some way.  The statute does have an out clause, though.  A victim of the crime cannot be held accountable as an accomplice nor can someone who terminates his efforts in the crime.  This last requires more than just ending his association with the perpetrators.  In order to be free from liability for the future acts of those still engaged in the criminal conduct, the would-be accomplice must make his prior efforts ineffective, tip-off police about the crime, or otherwise prevent the crime from taking place.

There is no “guilt by association” under Illinois law, but the reach of this statute makes even the most innocuous acts criminal.  Be careful of the encouragement, assent, or help you give to planning or committing a crime because the State is empowered to hold anyone and everyone involved accountable as if they themselves did the crime.  With so much at stake, you should seek the immediate assistance of a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney should you be accused of accomplice liability.