In this article, we will be discussing the various provisions of the law that revolve around; being an accomplice, aiding and abetting as well as the offence of conspiracy. To place our discussion in clear perspective, let’s begin by emphasizing the core questions we will be answering in this piece.
The questions are – what if you did not directly pull the trigger, stab the victim or partake in the direct commission of any other crime. What if like in the Money Heist movie series, you only played the role of the Professor? In other words, you gave the strategies, outlay and particularly assisted in the planning of the ‘hit’ but never even went to the scene of the crime. In fact you were only the engine room or brain box but you left the execution of the crime to another person or set of persons. Could you still be considered guilty of the crime committed in these circumstances?
As usual with the ‘what if’ series of writings in this site, we concede to what we expect to be your instinctive response – ’God forbid’ and so we will write this entire piece using ourselves as the point of reference.
So back to the question- what if I only assisted in the planning and carrying out the crime, Am I guilty?
First off, it is important to state that by offering advice for the execution of a crime, I become more than an accomplice. By definition, an accomplice is a person who knowingly, voluntarily, and with common intent unites with the principal offender in the commission of a crime. The Law looks beyond my mere advisory role and considers me to be a principal offender. The principal offender is in lay terms, the main perpetrator of the offence.
Therefore, my providing of advice and maybe strategy too, by Law places me in two precarious situations namely;
1.By Law, I am A Principal Offender:
I could be charged as a principal offender for the crime committed. Remember that we mentioned earlier that a Principal Offender is the main perpetrator of the offence. Put differently, in law I am deemed to have taken total part in committing the offense and may be charged with actually committing it. This is the effect of the following provisions of the Law – Section 7 of the Criminal Code (which applies in Southern State of Nigeria), Section 16 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State and Section 85 of the Penal Code, Section 8(a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud related offences Act, 2004. This situation is commonly referred to with the twin words – aiding and abetting.
It would be ideal to reproduce Section 16 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State hereunder to make the point clearer –
When an offence is committed, each of the following persons is deemed to have taken part in committing the offence and to be guilty of the offence, and may be charged with actually committing it:
- every person who actually does the act or makes the omission which constitutes the offence;
- every person who does or omits to do any act for the purpose of enabling another person to commit the offence;
- every person who aids another person in committing the offence; or
- any person who advises, counsels or procures any other person to commit the offence.
From the Section above, it is not only the person who directly and immediately causes the actus reus (physical expression/execution) of a crime that is solely criminally liable for it. It is more likely that a number of persons may have taken ancillary steps to ensure the successfully commission of the crime. Just like our topic envisions. This situation the law has well envisaged. Consequently, as an accomplice, I might actually not be present when the crime itself is committed but since I have knowledge of the crime before, enabled or aided its execution through advice, actions or financial support, the law considers me properly guilty.
At the risk of over-emphasizing the issue. Take for instance,
Johnson drew out the blueprint of a factory, pointing out where the golden items and accessories which are to be stolen are stored. Okeke and Suleiman carried out the robbery following the details given in the blueprint plan. For a successful operation, Crowther got some cars ready outside the factory to convey the robbers (Okeke and Suleiman) and the stolen items to their hideouts. Here both Johnson and Crowther can be charged as Principal offenders even though they were not at the scene of the robbery.
It is also noteworthy to mention that where I advise a person to carry out a crime, the law (in Lagos State) is now to the effect that it does not matter that the crime later carried out is different from the one I advised. The law deems that I advised the person/suspect to carry out the crime later carried out, which may be different from my initial advice – Section 17 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.
2. By Law, I am a Co-conspirator in relation to the offence
I could be charged for conspiring to commit the offence concerned. This is commonly called the offence of Conspiracy. It is provided for by the Criminal Code Laws of the various states. By Section 516 of the Criminal Code it is an offence to conspire to commit a felony while by Section 517, it is an offence to conspire to commit a misdemeanor ; see also Sections 96 and 97 of the Penal Code. The effect of this offence is that the intention of a group of persons to do something unlawful, amounts to an offence. So, the plot by a group of persons to carry out a crime, is in itself a crime.
In the circumstance of our current discuss, by taking part in planning out the crime, by Law I could be found guilty of the crime of conspiracy.
In summary, anyone who assists, abets, conspires with, counsels or aids another person in planning or in carrying out a crime is guilty of committing the offence and can be prosecuted in a court of law. Put differently, once it is shown that a person counselled, aided or advised on the carrying out of a crime, it is immaterial that he is not present at the execution or committing of the offence. He is guilty.
Thank you for reading.
Written By Oluboyo Olamide Taiwo LL.B (in view) and Nkobowo Nkobowo BL
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice, solicit for briefs or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may change from time to time. Readers considering legal action should consult with a lawyer to get proper advice affecting a specific circumstance. For further information on contents of our site and related topics, please send us an email via [email protected].