When a person may be accountable for someone else’s acts
Often, I am asked how a person can be held criminally responsible for the illegal acts of someone else. In Illinois, a person may be charged and convicted of a crime if he is accountable for the acts of another person. The statute that governs accountability is 720 ILCS 5/5-2. That statute states, in part, that “(a) person is legally accountable for the conduct of another when: (a) having a mental state described by the statute defining the offense, he or she causes another to perform the conduct, and the other person in fact or by reason of legal incapacity lacks such a mental state; (b) the statute defining the offense makes him or her so accountable; or (c)either before or during the commission of an offense, and with the intent to promote or facilitate that commission, he or she solicits, aids, abets, agrees, or attempts to aid that other person in the planning or commission of the offense.”
The statute continues to define accountability by stating “(w)hen 2 or more persons engage in a common criminal design or agreement, any acts in the furtherance of that common design committed by one party are considered to be the acts of all parties to the common design or agreement and all are equally responsible for the consequences of those further acts.”
Merely by being present at a crime scene does not make someone accountable, but the trier of fact (the judge or jury) can consider presence along with other factors to determine if someone is accountable for the crime.
Victims of the offense may not be considered accountable. Additionally, a person may before the commission of the offense, terminate culpability by wholly depriving his prior efforts of effectiveness in that commission, timely notifying law enforcement of the future offense or otherwise making proper efforts to prevent the commission of the crime.
On occasion, law enforcement may arrest only the person accountable for the offense. The main principal may not be found or the prosecutor may determine that there is insufficient evidence to charge the principal actor. A prosecution of the accountable person may be held even if the principal is not charged. 720 ILCS 5/5-3 specifically allows such a prosecution. That statute states that “(a) person who is legally accountable for the conduct of another which is an element of an offense may be convicted upon proof that the offense was committed and that he was so accountable, although the other person claimed to have committed the offense has not been prosecuted or convicted, or has been convicted of a different offense or degree of offense, or is not amenable to justice, or has been acquitted.”
Using these statutes, persons have been prosecuted and convicted of being “look-outs” for burglaries or “get-away” drivers for armed robberies, and other similar offenses where the persons entering the premises or holding the weapons have been acquitted or not apprehended. In these situations, as in all others where persons are charged with criminal offenses, an experienced criminal defense attorney should be consulted as soon as possible.
Lori G. Levin
Attorney at Law
180 N. LaSalle, Suite 3700
Chicago, IL 60601