Basic Concepts of Criminal Law

By George P. Fletcher | Go to book overview
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Perpetration versus Complicity

When a single offender acts alone, he or she is the sole perpetrator or principal. Problems arise when other people get involved. The degree of participation of others varies from a minimal contribution (giving advice, supplying tools or transportation) to taking charge and executing the commission of the crime. Those who counsel, assist, advise, or solicit are called accessories. They are complicitous in the acts of the perpetrator.

The paradigm of the accessory is the person who drives the car to the scene of the crime where, as planned, the perpetrator enters a home or a store to commit a serious felony. The question, then, is whether the driver, who remains in the car, becomes complicitous in the felony committed by another.

How one person can become complicitous in the acts of another is by no means obvious. Some ancient legal systems rejected the idea altogether. Jewish law held to the maxim: "In matters of crime no one can represent another."11.11 The thinking that would lead to this view would be something like this: Crime entails contamination of the criminal. The only way that contamination can occur is by "hands-on" commission of the offense. Advising, counseling, assisting, or even commanding--these things may be wrong because they facilitate crime, but they do not pollute or contaminate the accessory. At first blush, it appears that this idea survives in the German doctrine of eigenhaendige Delikte [crimes that must be committed by one's own hand]. Examples


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Basic Concepts of Criminal Law


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