Parents everywhere have said “be careful of the company you keep”, or some variation of it, going back decades. When we were kids, it probably was meant to dissuade us from being friends with the kid who was constantly getting into trouble and breaking the rules. Most of the time, that warning probably went unheard; I know it did for me. However there is some solid advice to that statement, especially if that you are with someone who is committing a crime. Not only could you be a witness, but you can even be charged with the same crime, even if you were just driving the car, or simply were just there.
What does Party to a Crime mean?
The Wisconsin Statutes define party to a crime as ” whoever is concerned in the commission of a crime is a principal and may be charged with and convicted of the commission of the crime although the person did not directly commit it and although the person who directly committed it has not been convicted or has been convicted of some other degree of the crime or of some other crime based on the same act” but what does that mean?
The simple definition is this: if you were involved in the crime in any way, active participant or passive observer, you, in the eyes of the law, are someone who can be charged with the crime. A dramatic example of this might be: You are driving around with two friends who ask you to pull overt to a gas station. The two go in, and come out a few minutes later, jumping in the car and telling you to drive or get out of there. You find out that while inside the gas station, your two friends stole money from the register. Both of your friends could be charged with robbery but the kicker is, so could you.
Many people would take something like the above mentioned situation and say, but I didn’t know about this until we were driving away, or if they did, they were just driving the car, not actually participating in the robbery. While this may be true, in the eyes of the law, you are no less responsible than those who physically robbed the gas station. Your knowledge of the act, or your role, in such a circumstance would factor, but not until sentencing. If you were convicted, you would likely receive a less harsh sentence, which is likely a little comfort if you are incarcerated.
Why Is the Law Written That Way?
The law is written to include a party to a crime to help make those who had knowledge of the crime, or who participated in a small way, as equally responsible. In the above stated example, the argument might be if it were not for the driver, the robbers may not have been able to flee so quickly and possibly avoid arrest. One of the other main reasons for laws such as party to a crime, is because it creates more opportunities for plea agreements. People who are connected to serious crimes but play a minor role will face the same penalties as those who played the center or major role, and thus those who are party to a crime, are more likely to take a plea agreement in which they disclose the other participants or other aspects of the crime. While this does not negate them of responsibility, it does serve to help charge more of the individuals who were involved in a criminal activity.
What Does This Mean for Me?
That questions depends on if you have a co-defendant who is a party to the crime, or if you yourself are the person charged as a party to a crime. If you have been charged, you may have options to cooperate with authorities to minimize your charges or your sentence. This must be negotiated and should be done by your attorney, as the deals are often complicated and dependent upon several factors.
If you are an individual who has been charged and also have a co-defendant who was charged as a party to the crime, it is best to seek an attorney immediately. Often times these individuals will cooperate with the authorities, or attempt to shift the blame on other individuals. These versions of events are not always taken at face value, but it is important to understand the exposure you face, the options you have to limit and minimize your exposure, and recognize the different credibility issues your co-defendant may have.
If you are facing charges where you are accused of being a participant in a crime, contact a Wisconsin Criminal Defense Attorney today.