A year ago, as a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer, I covered the story of the arrests of over 60 individuals at a New Year's Eve party in Bartow County. All of the individuals were arrested for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. This was justified because the marijuana was “in reach” of all of the party-goers.
According to the most recent reports, the group of sixty-four people have filed suit against the city of Cartersville as well as the law enforcement officials involved in the arrests. The lawsuit challenges “the mass detention, seizure, search and arrest of over sixty students, college graduates, and military servicemen attending a birthday party.” The complaint alleges that all of the individuals were strip-searched and held for anywhere from 1 to 3 days without access to phones, courts, or lawyers.
The charges against all but one of the individuals were dropped a few days after the incident. Typically - charges such as these are not dropped. Most of the time, they are justified under the party to a crime statute in Georgia. However, in this case, the statute did not fit the incident. The arrests were a serious misuse of the party to a crime offense.
Party to a Crime in Georgia
Party to a crime in Georgia is defined by Georgia Law in O.C.G.A. §16-2-20 as:
Every person concerned in the commission of a crime is a party thereto and may be charged with and convicted of commission of the crime.
Further, a person is concerned in the commission of a crime only if he:
- Directly commits the crime
- Indirectly causes some other person to commit the crime under such circumstances that the other person is not guilty of any crime either in fact or because of legal incapacity;
- Intentionally aids or abets in the commission of the crime; or
- Intentionally advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to commit the crime.
Actual participation in a crime requires more than mere presence at the scene of the crime is not sufficient evidence to convict someone of being a party. The Court should look at whether there was presence, companionship, and conduct before and after the commission of the crime from which one's participation in the criminal intent may be inferred.
Because the statute states that if convicted of party to a crime, then the defendant will also be guilty of commission of that crime. Therefore, the punishment is that of the substantive offense committed.
Being deemed a party to a crime is a severe offense because it means the accused is facing being convicted of the actual crime charged. For example, if someone is charged with being a party to the crime of murder in Georgia - they will be facing the same penalties as if they had committed the offense of murder. The penalties can range from a misdemeanor, felony, prison, or fines that can be substantial.
If you or a loved one has been arrested in Georgia, contact a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney today.