The Lawrenceville police found Eugene Singletary unresponsive and wounded on the pavement of the Villa Inn's parking lot on January 22, 2018. They transported him to a nearby hospital, but his gunshot wound proved to be fatal. Kelly Sanders was arrested the next day on charges of felony murder, trafficking methamphetamine, and conspiracy.
Here's where things get interesting. Authorities do not believe that Sanders is the one who murdered Singletary. She is charged with felony murder through Georgia’s Party to a Crime Law.
The Georgia Code defines Party to a Crime 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.” O.C.G.A. §16-2-20. This means that because of Sanders' alleged involvement in committing the felony murder, she is being charged with felony murder even though she may not have been the person to shoot Singletary.
Let's break down the statute. What does it mean to be “concerned in the commission of a crime?” There are a few different explanations. First, if someone directly commits a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. Second, if someone indirectly causes another person (who is not guilty because of legal incapacity) to commit a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. Third, if someone intentionally advises, encourages, hires, or counsels another to commit a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. And fourth, if someone intentionally aids or abets in the commission of a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. Georgia Courts have defined aid as to give help or assistance and abet as to encourage or incite.
Now, let's turn to some case law to understand what Georgia courts determine as a party to a crime.
"A mere presence at the scene of the crime is not enough to convict someone of being a party to a crime." Hicks v. State, 211 Ga. App. 370, (1993).
"A common criminal intent must be proven to establish that one is a party to a crime." Jones v. State, 250 Ga. 11, 13 (1982).
"Criminal intent may be inferred from a defendant's conduct before, during and after the commission of the crime." Sands v. State, 262 Ga. 367 (1992).
"Evidence of a defendant's conduct prior to, during, and after the commission of a criminal act will authorize the defendant's conviction for commission of the criminal act if a jury could infer from the conduct that the defendant intentionally encouraged the commission of the criminal act." Simpson v. State, 265 Ga. 665 (1995).
"The court will look at all of the conditions including presence, companionship, and conduct before and after the crime." Kimbro v. State, 152 Ga. App. 893, (1980).
"The defendant must also be an accessory before the actual commission of the crime." Grant v. State, 277 Ga. App. 243, (1997).
Unlike other states that have laws on accessories, Georgia law is broader. If you are involved in a crime in any significant way, then you are charged and prosecuted as if you are the principal offender. Other states have accessory before the fact (encourages another to commit a crime but who is not present at the scene), accessory during, or accessory after the fact (who assists another 1) who has committed a felony, 2) after the person has committed the felony, 3) with knowledge that the person committed the felony, and 4) with the intent to help the person avoid arrest or punishment). This means that other states have different levels of culpability depending on what you did before, during, or after the commission of the crime. In Georgia, our law pulls anyone in who is involved and holds them equally culpable.
To wrap it up, let's look at what the potential penalties are for a conviction of a party to a crime in Georgia. This is a severe offense as well as a confusing offense to be charged with - much less convicted. The charge means that the accused is facing the conviction of the actual crime charged. The penalties could be anywhere from a misdemeanor to a felony; they could include prison time, fines, etc.
Contact a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer today if you have been charged with a crime. We are available to assist you with your case and provide you with the best possible defenses.