Accomplice Versus Rendering Criminal Assistance


Did you know that you can be charged with a crime you did not even technically commit? Many people are charged with a crime as an accomplice.   This means that they are “on the hook” for commission of a crime even if they weren’t the ones who committed the principle crime. 

For example, a person can be charged as an accomplice for Burglary in the First Degree if they drove another to a house to commit a theft inside and a gun was used, even if that person never got out of the car or entered the house.  That person who didn’t do anything but drive the car is criminally liable for the same exact punishment as the person who actually committed the burglary!

What is the definition of an accomplice

A person is criminally liable as an accomplice if they know about a crime and do something to promote the crime. 

The criminal statute reads:

A person is an accomplice of another person in the commission of a crime if:

(1) With knowledge that it will promote or facilitate the commission of the crime, he

(a) solicits, commands, encourages, or requests such other person to commit it; or

(b) aids or agrees to aid such other person in planning or committing it; or

(2) His conduct is expressly declared by law to establish his complicity.

RCW 9A.08.020(3).

Mere presence at the scene of a crime, even if the person agreed to be there, is not sufficient to prove someone is an accomplice. The State must prove that the defendant was ready to assist in the crime.[1]

Even if an accomplice knows that the principle intends to commit “a crime” that does not necessarily mean that the accomplice liability attaches for any and all offenses ultimately committed by the principle.  In order for someone to be deemed an accomplice, that person must have knowledge that he was promoting or facilitating the crime that the principle is committing. 

There are two ways to terminate accomplice liability:

1.       If the accomplice gives timely notice to law enforcement OR makes a good faith effort to prevent the commission of the crime; OR

2.       If the accomplice is a victim of the crime.

If you are charged as an accomplice, your defense attorney may challenge whether the State can prove that you (1) had knowledge that the crime was going to occur; and/or (2) did anything to promote or assist with it. 

Sometimes, this means arguing that you are only criminally liable for rendering criminal assistance, and not an accomplice.

What is rendering criminal assistance?   It means you didn’t have knowledge before the crime happened, but you assisted in some way after the fact. 

The criminal statute reads:

A person "renders criminal assistance" if, with intent to prevent, hinder, or delay the apprehension or prosecution of another person who he or she knows has committed a crime or is being sought by law enforcement officials for the commission of a or has escaped from a detention facility, he:

(1) Harbors or conceals such person; or

(2) Warns such person of impending discovery or apprehension; or

(3) Provides such person with money, transportation, disguise, or other means of avoiding discovery or apprehension; or

(4) Prevents or obstructs, by use of force, deception, or threat, anyone from performing an act that might aid in the discovery or apprehension of such person; or

(5) Conceals, alters, or destroys any physical evidence that might aid in the discovery or apprehension of such person; or

(6) Provides such person with a weapon.

A conviction for rendering criminal assistance is a gross misdemeanor for Class B and Class C felonies.  If you were convicted of rendering criminal assistance to someone after they committed a Class A felony, rendering is elevated up to a Class C felony.   Either way, a conviction for rendering is often a significant reduction from any crime alleged to have been committed as an accomplice.   It is an option for plea bargaining and may be able to reduce your punishment from years down to months. 

RCW 9A.76.050

[1]  State v. Luna, 71 Wn. App. 755, 759, 862 P.2d 620 (1993).

If you or a loved one is charged as an accomplice to a crime, you need an experienced, aggressive, and knowledgeable defense attorney. 

Call Gause Law Offices today for a free consultation – 206-660-8775.