What happens if you give someone a loaded gun, knowing that they’re going to use it to do something illegal? Or, what if you serve as the getaway driver for a person who has committed a crime such as burglary? Perhaps you didn’t plan the crime itself, but you did something that you knew would help another person commit that crime. In these cases, Virginia residents may have committed complicity, and could be criminally charged.
Complicity — also known as “aiding and abetting” in Virginia — takes place when a person assists or encourages another person to do something illegal. An accomplice can be subjected to the same penalties as the person who committed the crime. The key point when it comes to complicity is whether the alleged accomplice intentionally and voluntarily either aided and abetted another person to commit a crime or, under certain circumstances, failed to stop a person from committing a crime. This knowing or purposeful mental state is known as “mens rea.”
However, complicity is not the same as conspiracy. To constitute conspiracy, a person must play an active role in the planning of a future criminal offense. Accomplices don’t play a role in planning the crime, they just assist the actual criminal act. Generally, accomplices can only be found guilty if a crime is committed — conspirators can be found guilty regardless of whether their plan to commit a crime worked out or not.
Because the penalties for complicity can be as severe as they are for the crime itself, those charged with complicity will want to develop a strong defense strategy. They may want to argue that they did not have the requisite intent or that they didn’t know a crime was going to be committed, among other legal options