Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.
Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services. Full Bio
I was with someone who committed a crime. Why was I charged?
Many people mistakenly believe that they have to be directly involved in a crime to be faced with criminal charges, but this is not actually the case. If the arresting officer has a reasonable amount of evidence to assume that you helped someone you know to commit a crime, they can arrest you and you can be facing criminal charges. Additionally, it is important to note that withholding information about a crime may also be grounds for criminal charges.
An Accomplice Charge
In most instances, people who are arrested at the same time as an acquaintance who committed a crime are charged with being an accomplice or an accessory. Fortunately, there are some specific legal guidelines that need to be met for an accomplice charge to stick. The reality is that you could have been with an acquaintance who committed a crime without your knowledge. However, you should note that even an unwitting accomplice could still end up dealing with legal difficulties in some scenarios.
For example, if you served as a getaway driver after a crime, you can expect to be charged as an accomplice. This gets tricky for you legally if you were simply waiting in a car for your friend to come out of a bank or other local establishment, and had no knowledge of their criminal intentions. You will likely need the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney to help you fight the charges that have been filed against you in this case. Ultimately, an accomplice is defined as someone who either encourages, counsels, aids or commands another individual in direct relation to a crime that they commit.
An Accomplice after the Fact
Another situation that can get you into legal trouble is if you find out about a crime after it has been committed and offer assistance to the criminal. For instance, if you found out that you friend robbed a bank and then took them to a hiding spot, you can be held legally responsible for your actions as an accomplice after the fact. Specifically, this means taking steps to help someone avoid law enforcement taking them into custody.
Each state has its own laws and specific legal scenarios that determine whether or not it is illegal to keep knowledge of a crime to yourself, but helping someone evade detection or destroy evidence after the fact is always illegal.
Another common criminal charge that people face when they believe that they have done nothing wrong is constructive possession. This charge is a common law concept, and is defined more specifically by local or state laws.
Constructive possession typically involves drug activity, and it is defined as being in the same vehicle or home as a person who has drugs in their possession. A prime example of this is if you get pulled over and a police officer finds drug paraphernalia and some marijuana inside your car. Even if your passenger owns these items and admits this to the officer, you still face the possibility of a constructive possession charge. The only way to completely avoid this potential legal problem is to ensure that nothing illegal is ever stored in your car or house.
All of these charges can cause serious issues for your life and career. Therefore, it is always best to consult with a professional attorney right away if you are charged with a crime for being in the general vicinity of a friend who broke the law. Keep in mind that although you are innocent until proven guilty, guilt by association can come into play with constructive possession.