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    Colorado Accomplice Law

    Colorado Accomplice Law

    Colorado Accomplice Law – Understanding How You and Your Friend Can Be Prosecuted For The Same Crime When You DId Much Less

    By Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – H. Michael Steinberg

    Colorado Accomplice Law – Colorado law – if you aid and abet in the commission of a crime – even if your role in the crime is minor – you are held as legally responsible as the “main” actor.  This is hard to understand some times and seems unfair.. But it is the law. 

    Who Is An Accomplice?

    An accomplice is someone who knowingly, voluntarily, and with common interest, participates in the commission of a crime, and can be charged with the same crime(s) for which the accused will be tried;

    Complicity means association in a wrongful act;

    Principal means anyone involved in committing a crime; an accessory before the fact aids, incites, or abets but is not physically present;

    An accessory after the fact receives, comforts, relieves, or assists a felon to avoid apprehension and conviction.

    In accomplice law (complicity), the statutory law has evolved much beyond the common law, and the case law is extensive and confusing about exactly where the lines are drawn. Complicity is a concept that can be abused by prosecutors.

    Only a few basic restrictions exist:

    (1) the law does not recognize accomplices to any misdemeanor or the crime of treason;

    (2) an accomplice must normally be physically present during commission of the crime, but advice or words of encouragement beforehand as well as providing material assistance afterwards will create a liability;

    (3) no one can be convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice alone;


    (4) persons giving post crime aid are punished less severely than those furnishing pre crime aid.

    Being an accomplice is NOT the same as:

    Accessory after the fact — this remains a separate and less serious offense for giving aid and comfort (harboring) to a fugitive. The law sees it as a separate offense because it’s really helping someone avoid arrest or escape punishment more than helping someone commit a crime. Accessories always have a claim to less punishment.

    Conspiracy — conspiracy is a completely different crime; according to the Pinkerton rule, a person can be charged with both conspiracy to commit a crime and the crime itself under the law of accomplices (Example: two people agree to commit murder, and one acts as a lookout while the other kills somebody; both can be charged with conspiracy to commit murder and murder itself).

    Facilitation or solicitation — these are separate offenses, related to the ideas, respectively, of making it easier for someone to commit a crime and enticing someone to commit a crime that never occurs (Examples: aiding a juvenile who is used in crime to limit someone’s exposure to prosecution; soliciting a prostitute; of the two.)

    The Colorado Doctrine of Complicity

    This establishes the notion of “accomplice liability” which for anyone aiding, abetting, or giving counsel to a known felon has that felon’s actus reus and mens rea attributed to them. Their participation is what creates the liability as if they had committed the crime alone.

    Elements of the Doctrine of Law Of Accomplice Liability

    There are three (3) elements to accomplice liability:

    (1) proof that someone committed the underlying crime — it is not necessary, however, for the government to have tried and convicted somebody, or even that the principal is identified; proof in this sense means probable cause that a crime was committed.

    (2) actus reus — accomplice law eases the requirement of proving actus reus, but it does so with hard-to-define words. Words such as “aid”, “abet”, “assist”, “counsel”, “induce” or “incite” may have different meanings depending upon what jurisdiction you’re in. Normally, you can’t be considered as an accomplice simply for being there.

    Case law has ruled the following are examples of accomplice actus reus:

        • acting as a lookout
        • providing guns, supplies, or instruments of crime (even under color of financial transaction if seller is aware of purpose)
        • driving a getaway vehicle
        • sending the victim to the principal
        • preventing warnings from reaching the victim (but not merely failing to disclose the occurrence of a crime to authorities)

    (3) mens rea — this is the element that it all boils down to in obtaining a conviction for being an accomplice. All the words used in accomplice law (“abet” for example) carry an implication of purposive attitude toward the crime.

    Case law has ruled the following are examples of accomplice mens rea:

        • an intent that the crime be committed; an affirmative desire to see it done
        • knowledge that they are contributing to the commission of a crime, knowing that the outcome would have a dangerous result or criminal consequences
        • recklessness and negligence under such circumstances as to indirectly benefit or share in the financial proceeds of the crime; a “stake” in the outcome

    Defenses To An Accusation of Being An Accomplice In Colorado

    There are three (3) ways to offer a defense to the crime of being an accomplice:

    (1) Mistake of fact — this is not the same as “I didn’t know it was a crime” (mistake of law) but a mistake of fact good faith claim because of the way a person perceives the world and makes reasoned judgments

    (2) Abandonment — the complicity was abandoned in a timely manner; the accomplice terminated their participation either completely or in part such as to deprive the principal of effectiveness at committing the crime; “I didn’t help so they could get caught and learn their lesson”

    (3) Withdrawal — the complicity was repudiated voluntarily (not merely because of a fear of getting caught); “I didn’t help because it was wrong”; some attempts are made to neutralize or thwart the crime such as by notifying authorities

    Complicity or Accomplice Liability Law In Colorado § 18-1-603, C.R.S.

    The Law § 18-1-603, C.R.S.

    Under Colorado’s complicity statute, a defendant may be liable for a crime committed by another person if, “with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense, he or she aids, abets, advises, or encourages the other person in planning or committing the offense.”

    Our supreme court has interpreted this statute to require a dual mental state:

    (1) the complicitor must have the culpable mental state required for the underlying crime committed by the principal,


    (2) the complicitor must assist or encourage the commission of the crime with the intent to promote or facilitate it.

    The jury instruction on the law reads as follows:

    A person is guilty of an offense committed by another person if he is a complicitor. To be guilty as a complicitor, the following must be established by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt:

    1. A crime must have been committed.

    2. Another person must have committed all or part of the crime.

    3. The defendant must have had knowledge that the other person intended to commit all or part of the crime.

    4  The defendant must have had the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the crime.

    5. The defendant must have aided, abetted, advised, or encouraged the other person in the commission or planning of the crime.


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    H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
    Attorney and Counselor at Law
    The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
    A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
    Colorado Criminal Law For Over 40 Years.
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