John, Bob and Joe are sitting around at a party, drinking and having a good time. After a number of cocktails, Joe starts complaining about an ex-girlfriend and expressing anger that she is seeing someone else. Joe starts talking about how they’d like to hurt the new boyfriend, and how he believes if he was out of the picture the ex-girlfriend would run back to him. After a few more cocktails, all three start talking about ways to accomplish this goal. Various ideas are tossed about, and all three eventually agree that taking the new boyfriend at gunpoint and threatening his life is a good idea. They come up with a detailed plan to help Joe, and John mentions that he can borrow a handgun from a friend. John leaves, returns shortly thereafter with the gun. He gives the gun to Joe. Somehow John and Bob find out where the new boyfriend lives, and tell Joe. Joe then proclaims that he is going to confront the new boyfriend and leaves. John and Bob decide that it’s not a good idea to accompany Joe, and they stay at the party. About an hour later, Joe returns and returns the gun to John. It later turns out that Joe shot the ex-boyfriend and he died. Can John be charged with Joe’s crime?
The short answer is: Yes. Under Minnesota law, a person can be charged with crimes that are committed by another person under certain circumstances. Under Minn.Stat.§609.05, “[a] person is criminally liable for a crime committed by another if the person intentionally aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with or otherwise procures the other to commit the crime”. Because John’s conduct arguably fits the definition of aiding and abetting, he can be charged with the ex-boyfriends murder, even though he was not present during the commission of the crime itself. The only way John can avoid criminal liability is if he took reasonable steps to prevent the commission of the crime before it happened.
In short, people can be charged with crimes that are committed by others.