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Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C.
630-472-9700Available 24/7

Being in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: Is it a Crime in Illinois?

Posted on in Arrest

illinois criminal defense lawyerTo some residents of the state, one of the more nerve-wracking parts of Illinois law is the doctrine of accomplice liability. Under this doctrine, it appears that sometimes being merely present at the scene of a crime may make someone just as liable as if that individual had actually committed the crime.

For example, people may worry about being convicted of shoplifting if a companion shoplifts or they may worry about charges of assault and battery for merely “having a friend’s back” during a bar fight. Though under Illinois law it is not necessary for one to physically commit a crime to be convicted of that crime, the law does not impose a straightforward “guilt by association” rule either. Certain conditions must be satisfied before a companion may be charged as an accomplice to a crime.

Accomplice Liability in Illinois

Under Illinois law (720 ILCS 5/5-3), a person is legally accountable for another person’s criminal conduct if :

  1. The companion has the specified intent to commit the crime and the companion compels or forces another legally non-consenting person to commit the crime;
  2. The statute defining the criminal offense also makes the companion accountable; or
  3. Either before or during the commission of the offense (that the companion intended), the companion solicits, aids, abets, agrees or attempts to aid the other, acting person in planning or commission of the offense.

When two or more persons come together to plan a criminal offense, any acts in furtherance of that “common design”  are considered to be acts of all the planners, regardless of who actually committed the offense.

The accomplice liability statute is clear to specify that “[m]ere presence at the scene of a crime does not render a person accountable for an offense.” However, the statute states that an alleged accomplice’s presence at the crime scene may be one of several factors considered when determining whether the person should be charged as an accomplice for the crime. The statute also protects victims of a crime from being charged as accomplices.

What to Do if You Find Yourself Mixed Up with a Crime Scene

Illinois criminal law allows for a “way out” for people who find themselves unwillingly standing in the shoes of a soon-to-be accomplice. In order to avoid liability as an accomplice, even if the person aided in steps to plan the offense, the unwilling individual can take the following actions:

  1. Wholly deprive or refuse to contribute the person’s efforts in carrying through the crime;
  2. Give timely warning to proper law enforcement authorities; and
  3. Otherwise make proper efforts to stop the commission of the planned crime.

As can be imagined from just reading the law, the line between being an accomplice and a bystander can be a blurry one. Moreover, people found at the scene of a crime may be called into questioning as a witness, only to find the tables have turned and they are now considered a suspect. To avoid or defend being charged as an accomplice in the commission of a crime in Illinois, contact Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. to learn more about your legal rights in this area. Our DuPage County criminal law attorneys can be reached by phone at 630-472-9700.

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