"I understand that good people sometimes find themselves in bad situations."

Arizona’s Criminal Accessary and Accomplice Law

by Aaron M. Black • December 11, 2020

On its face it may seem unfair for someone to be criminally charged for an act performed by someone else. But those who in any way assist someone to commit or cover up a crime will face the same charges and penalties as the actual perpetrator under Arizona Revised Statute §13-303.

Those who aid a conspiracy plot are either “accomplices” or “accessories.”

An accomplice is a person who does not directly participate in committing the crime itself but assists the perpetrator before, during or after the crime is enacted.

Criminal Conspiracy - Buying a Gun

Such assistance is by providing help in arranging for necessary information, tools, or physical assistance to facilitate the crime such as obtaining a firearm, driving the get-away car or serving as a lookout among other illicit services.

An accessory generally has less direct involvement in helping the perpetrator commit the offense but provides assistance to the perpetrator after the crime is committed, such as cleaning the crime scene or aiding the perpetrator’s flight from justice.

Many people become involved in a conspiracy because they have personal connections to the perpetrator -- family, friends, romantic relationships, or those who work for a targeted enterprise to provide inside information to conduct the crime.

Construction of a conspiracy

A conspiracy requires at least two people but often more people are involved, particularly in drug trafficking offenses. They organize themselves, develop a plan and obtain the necessary tools and information to execute the intended crime.

The prosecution in conspiracy cases often will offer immunity from prosecution if the individual approached agrees to testify against his or her co-conspirators.

Simply thinking or talking about committing a crime is not actionable unless at least one overt act to further the conspiracy by one or more of the conspirators is committed. The overt act in and of itself can be perfectly legal, such as buying a chain saw or renting a vehicle.

The overt act must be shown to further the conspiracy by planning and preparing to commit the offense. When members of the conspiracy meet to discuss or plan the intended crime, it is considered under law as an overt act.

Sometimes it happens that an undercover law officer is brought into a conspiracy to gather evidence to thwart the conspiratorial plan and make arrests.

Requirements for prosecuting conspiracies

To earn an accomplice or accessory conviction, Arizona prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements that constitute the crime:
The accomplice:
  • A crime was committed
     
  • The alleged aider acted with intent to aid, counsel, command, or procure what was necessary to carry out the conspiracy
     
  • The alleged aider acted with intent to facilitate the intended crime
     
  • The alleged aider acted before the crime was finished
     
Accessory after the fact:
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
  • The alleged aider knew that a particular person committed a crime
     
  • The alleged aider assisted a person with the purpose to design or hinder or prevent the person’s capture, trial, or punishment
     

Intent and conspiracies

To earn a conviction for criminal offenses in Arizona, including conspiracy, the state must show that the defendant intended to commit the offense or knew about the conspiracy and did nothing to alert law enforcement.

Innocent association with the conspirators and ignorance of a conspiracy plot does not qualify as intent; and therefore, no crime was committed.

Avoiding criminal responsibility

To avoid being charged as a conspiracy’s accomplice or accessory, a person with knowledge of the conspiracy must withdraw from the conspiracy and refuse to help any further. In withdrawing from the conspiracy the person must tell authorities about the conspiratorial plot or take some another affirmative action to prevent the crime from occurring such as alerting the intended victim.

Relationship is not a defense

Being personally involved with a conspirator and helping or having knowledge of the plot because of that relationship is not a defense. So the mother of a conspirator, for example, cannot avoid prosecution because she did not want to endanger her child. Mother and child will be equally charged not only with conspiracy, but also with its intended crime. They each will receive the same sentence.

Common defenses for conspiracy

The first line of defense is to invoke the Fifth Amendment protecting you from incriminating yourself by declining to answer questions without an attorney present.
Several conspiracy accomplice and accessory defenses are available under Arizona law:
  • You did not have any knowledge of the conspiracy and thereby there is no intent to participate.
     
  • You did not commit an overt act to further the conspiracy.
     
  • Entrapment by law officers who tricked or coerced you into joining the conspiracy by threatening your livelihood or physical harm.
     
  • Duress in that one or more of the conspiracy’s members threatened you if you did not join it.
     
  • Authorities violated your Constitutional rights by not informing you of your right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination.
     
  • Authorities did not have probable cause to make an arrest.
     
  • Evidence was illegally obtained or insufficient to make an arrest.
     
Other defenses may be available depending upon the fact pattern of the case.

Ramifications of a conspiracy conviction

A conspiracy conviction is a felony and the intended crime is too, so the defendant will face multiple charges. In a robbery case, for example, those involved in the conspiracy will be charged with conspiracy, robbery, use of a firearm, and any related offenses.

A felony conviction has life-long tentacles. Other than a sentence to state prison and significant fines, convicted felons lose the right to keep and bear arms and the right to vote in elections. Those who have professional licenses, such as teachers, will have their license revoked. Employment becomes difficult and renting a place to live can be denied to protect tenants.

A felony conviction will stay on your record forever.

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I have a long history of aggressively defending good people in bad situations and attacking the state’s evidence, procedures, and the records of the officers investigating you.

I defend conspiracy charges in state and federal courts in Maricopa county.
 

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In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.
 

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