By Collin County Criminal Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
In Texas, mere presence at a crime scene alone is insufficient to sustain a conviction. The difference between just being at a crime scene and doing something which can be considered aiding or abetting is paper thin, however. And if you’re complicit in an offense — you can be held equally responsible.
Texas has what is called the law of parties in criminal cases. It is governed by Section 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code.
Tex.Pen.C. 7.02(2) says that if a person, “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense…” then they are criminally liable as well. I’ve italicized the words above to show just how liberal the application of that law can be.
Let me give you a hypothetical of how this rule applies. Take two 18-year old boys at the mall. One decides he’s going to shoplift and the other doesn’t know about it. If the friend doesn’t see and doesn’t know that the other was trying to steal as they all walk out of the store — it would be very difficult to say the non-stealing friend is guilty under the law of parties. Certainly the shop owner and police may think so; but they would have to prove that in court.
On the other hand, let’s say the one guy is trying to shoplift and friend sees it. He doesn’t participate, but he gets nervous and when the shop owner looks over at him, he “acts natural.” Are both guilty of theft? It’s a tough question. Some jurors may consider that aiding or attempting to aid in the furtherance of the offense.
Issues like these are why criminal defense lawyers experienced in trial are crucial. A criminal defense lawyer can force the prosecution to prove the complicit beyond all reasonable doubt. If the prosecution can’t, then there will be an acquittal. The burden is on the state to prove your intent and your actions. The burden isn’t on you to show you were innocent!
It should be noted that there are many offenses where people have an affirmative duty to report the crime that they’ve witnessed. This generally includes felony offenses and other cases where the witness owes a special duty to the victim. Also anytime a person suspects abuse or neglect of a child, they have a legal duty to report the same to Child Protective Services.
*Jeremy F Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.