Party to a Crime

Have you Been Charged with Being a Party to a Crime?

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. Therefore, the penalties can range from a misdemeanor, felony, prison, or fines that can be substantial. It is important to retain counsel that understands the law and the consequences a conviction will have on you and your loved one's lives. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers have over 20 years of experience in criminal law.

Georgia Law on When a Person is a Party to a Crime

O.C.G.A. §16-2-20 state 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:

  1. Directly commits the crime
  2. 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;
  3. Intentionally aids or abets in the commission of the crime; or
  4. Intentionally advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to commit the crime.

What Constitutes Participation? 

There is no set standard for what constitutes participation, but the Court has set some precedent in case law. Mere presence at the scene of the crime is not sufficient evidence to convict someone of being a party. Hicks v. State, 211 Ga. App. 370, (1993). Therefore, the Court looks 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. Kimbro v. State, 152 Ga. App. 893, (1980).

What Does Aid or Abet Mean?

To be guilty as a party to a crime as an aider or abettor, a defendant must be an accessory before the fact. Grant v. State, 277 Ga. App. 243, (1997). “Aid” means to give help or assistance while “abet” means to encourage, incite, or help. In the Interest of J.Q.W., 288 Ga. App. 444, (2007).

Georgia Case Law on Being a Party to a Crime

Georgia case law demonstrates that once found to be a party to the crime; the defendant is then convicted of the actual crime. An example of this can be found in Kegler v. State. 317 Ga. App. 427, (2012). Police officers found drugs and drug paraphernalia at a house. Emmanuel Kegler owned the residence but Clarence Kegler was at the house when the search occurred. Clarence got a bag of cocaine out of the microwave and tried to escape when a deputy caught up to him and found a large sum of cash on his person. Emmanuel and Clarence were jointly indicted on charges of trafficking in cocaine and possession of marijuana with intent to marijuana.

During the trial, Emmanuel testified that Clarence had brought over two large bags of marijuana that day and placed it in the microwave. Clarence argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him because the State failed to show that he possessed the bag of cocaine found in the kitchen of the house owned by Emmanuel. He testified that he did not bring the cocaine to the house and that he never touched it or had anything to do with it. However, the Court found that Clarence was a party to the crime of trafficking in cocaine. The State demonstrated that even if Clarence was not the one that brought cocaine to the house, he still possessed it and the cash on his person proved that he had some involvement in the crime. Furthermore, since Clarence was deemed to be a party to the crime of trafficking in cocaine, then he was, therefore, guilty of trafficking in cocaine.

What has to be Proven to be Convicted

To be convicted of being a party of a crime, the State must demonstrate that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This involves a showing that the defendant was concerned in the commission of a crime by one of the four ways as described in the statute.

Penalty for a Conviction of Party to a Crime

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. O.C.G.A. § 16-2-21. In sum, if found to be a party of murder, then the penalty will be that for murder.

Defenses to Being a Party to a Crime

No proof of criminal intent: There must be evidence that one is a party to a crime or an accomplice through proof of common criminal intent.

I was just present at the scene of the crime: Presence at the place of the crime, even coupled with knowledge and approval not amounting to encouragement, is not sufficient to show that the defendant was a party to the crime. Smith v. State, 188 Ga. App. 415, (1988).

I approved of the action but didn't encourage it: As long as the statement did not amount to encouraging the offense, then the defendant will not be guilty of being a party to a crime. Moore v. State, 255 Ga. 519, (1986). In the case of Parker v. State, the defendant's statement could be construed as constituting approval of the codefendant selling marijuana, but such approval did not amount to encourage. Therefore, the defendant was not rendered a party to the crime. 155 Ga. App. 617, (1980).

What are not Defenses

I was not the actual perpetrator: Participants to a crime may be convicted of a crime even though they are not the real offenders. In the case of Lobdell v. State, the Court ruled that it did not matter whether it was the defendant or the defendant's accomplice who fired the gun during the robbery, which resulted in the death of the victim. Both could be convicted of the murder. 256 Ga. 769, (1987).

The crime was conspiracy, and I did not participate in the offense: The crime of conspiracy states that one act by one of the co-defendants becomes the act of all defendants. Therefore, each is entirely responsible for the actions of the other in carrying out the common purpose as if each person personally committed the act.

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