There are times when two or more people committed a crime. One completed the physical act that produced the criminal harm but the others either instigated or helped in its commission.
This is called criminal complicity—it happens when two or more people agree to commit a crime and although only one commits the physical act, the others who were in partnership with him possessed the criminal intent to commit the crime and committed acts prior to or after the physical acts.
One night two male friends Joe and Tom were out drinking at a bar. They see a girl provocatively dressed and dancing in the bar. They ask her to dance but she brushes them off. They wait for her in the dark parking lot until the girl came out. As she was walking to her car, they approached her and asked if she would dance privately with them. She calls them ‘perverts’ and tells them to ‘bug off’. Tom slaps the girl and she falls down. Joe holds her down while Tom sexually assaults her. The girl screamed and struggled. The two ran away when they heard someone coming.
In this example, only Tom actually committed the sexual assault while Joe, who was present at the time and place of the commission of the crime, helped Tom commit the sexual assault by holding the woman down. These two can be charged and found criminally liable upon the doctrine of criminal partnership or criminal complicity.
A principal is the person who actually commits the physical act or acts which are elements of the crime. The accessory is the person who encourages or assists in its commission or one who counsels and procures its commission. Both Joe and Tom shared a common criminal intent.
They waited for the girl in the dark parking lot, they approached her. One slapped the girl and when she fell, one of them held her down while the other committed the sexual assault. Both are criminally liable for the criminal assault: one as a principal, the other as an accessory.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.