Party to a Crime

In Georgia, the legal theory called party to a crime allows a person to be charged with and potentially convicted of serious crimes if they only played a very minor role in the commission of the crime.  The following scenarios depict how a person could be convicted of a serious crime under the theory of party to a crime.

Imagine Andrew and Johnny decide to commit a burglary together.  Andrew is very keen on the idea and can’t wait to break into someone’s house and steal their stuff.  Johnny, on the other hand, really needs the money they will get from selling the stolen stuff, but he doesn’t really have any desire to break the law.  He agrees to be the look out during the burglary, while Andrew breaks in.

Andrew does a great job and steals lots of valuable stuff from the first house.  Johnny helps him carry it away, but never sets foot inside the house. They both split the proceeds of pawning the stolen goods.  Later they are caught when Andrew gets drunk at the local bar and runs his mouth about committing the burglary. The brother of the homeowner reports it to the police.  Acting on the tip the police question Andrew and Johnny. Johnny confesses to his involvement thinking he can’t possibly be found guilty of burglary because he never went into the house.  He is very wrong.

The police charge both he and Andrew with the offense of burglary and both of them are facing the same amount of time in prison – up to twenty years.  The police are able to charge Johnny because, under the theory of party to a crime, Johnny participated in the burglary with Andrew by agreeing to act as the look out.  Also, Johnny benefitted from the burglary by sharing in the proceeds of the stolen goods.

Realistically speaking, Johnny may be able to get a much better plea deal than Andrew because of his lesser involvement in the crime.  Johnny’s attorney, like a Decatur criminal lawyer, can argue this fact to the prosecutor and the judge to try and get Johnny a lighter sentence.  However, technically speaking under the legal doctrine of party to a crime, Johnny is considered just as guilty of burglary as Andrew.

The same applies in a case of armed robbery.  Jenna, Karen and Ebony all decide to commit a robbery together.  Jenna is the driver, Karen is the muscle and Ebony is just along for the thrill of it.  They drive down a read late at night until they see a couple walking home from the club.  Jenna pull up to the couple and Karen jumps out. She demands that the couple give her all their cash, phones and jewelry.  The couple look at her and laugh. Karen pull out the gun she had in her pocket. Both Jenna and Ebony are shocked, they had no idea Karen had a gun.  Upon seeing the gun, the couple hand over their possessions and Karen jumps back into the car. Jenna speeds away, however she does not realize that an off duty police officer has seen the whole robbery and begins to follow them while calling for backup.  Ebony, Karen and Jenna all split the money the couple gave Karen. Karen takes the women’s expensive looking ring and bracelet and Ebony thinks she can sell the couple’s cell phones to her friend David for some extra cash. When they are arrested by the police they are all charges with armed robbery and are each facing a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison.  Ebony and Jenna both try to argue that they had not idea Karen had a gun, but under party to a crime they can all be found guilty of armed robbery especially because they left together, did nothing to stop the crime and shared in the proceeds of the armed robbery.



Credit to our contributors from Andrew R. Lynch, P.C. for their insight into being party to a crime.