Criminal Liability for Acts of Another: New York Penal Law Section 20.00

You and a friend have an illegal gambling operation. The police executed a search warrant at your business and you find yourself charged with Money Laundering in Brooklyn Criminal Court. However, you merely arranged for finding the physical location to run the operation and greeting clients, but you never dealt with the financial transactions. Maybe you arrange for bookings for an escort services and find yourself charged with Promoting Prostitution in Manhattan Supreme Court, but you never actually met the alleged prostitutes or set up locations to meet because someone else had the responsibility. In an even worse scenario, you are in jail in the Bronx because you were a “lookout” or “steerer” when a friend of yours sold drugs to an undercover police officer with the NYPD and now you are charged with Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance (selling drugs) with your friend.

The question you may ask is, “How is the District Attorney’s Office charging me for a crime where I was not the person who actually committed that crime?” The answer to this question may be found in Penal Law Section 20.00. An experienced New York criminal defense attorney will not only be able to explain this legal definition to you, but to analyze and put forth the best way to challenge the case against you.

Penal Law Section 20.00, Criminal Liability for Conduct of Another, establishes that if “one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense [such as Money Laundering, Promoting Prostitution or Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance], another person is criminally liable for such conduct when, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission [of that offense], he solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct.”

In “regular” language, what the above provision means is that if a jury finds that the offense was committed – in our examples Money Laundering, Promoting Prostitution or Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance – and that you solicited or intentionally aided another in committing this crime with the mental state that the crime be committed, then it does not matter if your participation was less than the other person’s. While it may mitigate your case, the law does not differentiate between who was more involved. Each person who was involved in the manner described above would be treated as if he or she committed each element of the particular crime.

An even better way to look at this is if you hire a person to shoot and kill another, both you and the “hitman” would be charged with Murder if such person was killed because you solicited the “hitman” and assisted him in murdering the other person even though you did not pull the trigger.

Whatever circumstance you find yourself in, there may be a valid defense or legitimate mitigating circumstances that an experienced NY criminal defense attorney can pursue to exonerate or assist you. The longer it takes to develop your defense or provide the District Attorney with mitigating circumstances, the more difficult it may become to get you where you want to be.

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