Being caught as a ‘party’ to an offence – an overview
We were recently involved in a trial for a man who was charged with bashing some teenagers on a street in Inala. However, this was a very unusual case. What made it unusual was that he never even touched any of the teenagers, nor could he even see the teenagers as they were being bashed. How could he still be charged?
We will need to first explain the facts. Our client was at home asleep when he heard a group of teenagers walking up the street. The teenagers were being very noisy and were causing trouble – they were damaging cars, pot plants and letter boxes as they made their way up the street. Our client then got in to his car, together with his friend who was staying with him at the time, and drove up the street to look for the group of teenagers. When they found them, our client stopped his car and his friend chased the group of teenagers. The friend cornered a couple of the teenagers and viciously bashed them. While the bashing was taking place our client was standing about 5 metres away, on the other side of thick bushes, meaning that he didn’t touch any of the teenagers nor could he even see the teenagers as they were being bashed.
In Queensland, it is possible for a person to be convicted of a crime as a “party”, meaning that they do not need to be actually present at the scene of a crime. This can happen one of two ways.
Assisting the main offender of a crime
The first way is if it can be shown that the person in some way helped or assisted another person who actually commits the crime, who is known as the “principal”, when the principal committed the crime. Helping and assisting have very wide definitions and the simplest way to explain it is if the person in any way made it easier or possible for the principal to commit a crime. Say for example five people come up with a plan to rob a bank. Person A convinces the others to rob the bank because he knows that there will be lots of money there, but doesn’t actually go to the bank himself; person B obtains the guns for the others to rob the bank but doesn’t actually go to the bank either; person C will be the person who drives the others to the bank and waits in the car while the others go inside to rob the bank; and people D and E actually go inside to rob the bank. In such a situation, all five people can be convicted of the offence of robbing the bank. Even though person A didn’t go to the bank or handle a gun or demand any money, he convinced the others to commit the crime – he is known as a “counsellor”. Even though person B didn’t go to the bank either, he obtained the guns – he is known as an “aider”. Person C is also an “aider” because he is the person who will drive D and E away, each of whom are the “principals”.
A very common example that we encounter is people who have helped a drug trafficker, for example by driving the trafficker around to sell their drugs, by letting the drug trafficker use their phone or perhaps collecting debts on behalf of the drug trafficker. In each situation the person never even handles the drugs but if it can be shown that the person knew that they were helping the drug trafficker in their business then they could be convicted of it themselves. The important part is that the person must know that they are helping the drug trafficker.
A second crime being a likely consequence of the first crime
There is a second way that a person can be convicted of a crime that they didn’t actually commit. Let’s take the bank robbery scenario above. Imagine that while D and E are inside the bank the police arrive and enter the bank. Once the police are inside a gun fight breaks out. During the gun fight, a police officer is shot and killed by D. D is then charged with the murder of the police officer. In such a situation, all five people can still be convicted of the murder of the police officer. This seems very strange, given that there was never any plan to shoot anybody. So how can this happen?
In Queensland, the law states that if two or more people form a plan to commit a crime, and in the course of committing that crime another offence is committed that is a likely consequence of the first crime, then all people can be found guilty of the second crime. In the bank robbery situation, all five people formed a plan to commit a crime, being a robbery. In the course of committing that crime another offence is committed, being the shooting of the police officer. The question then is, was the shooting of the police officer something that was likely to occur during the robbery? The answer would be yes. All five knew that guns were involved. All five would have known that during a bank robbery the police would be called. All five knew that once the police arrived a gun battle would likely occur. All five knew that once a gun battle occurs one of the police officers could get shot. All five knew that if one of the police officers got shot there is the possibility that he would die. Therefore, clearly in this situation the shooting of a police officer is something that is a likely consequence of the robbery.
In summary, therefore, the law in Queensland can catch people who don’t actually commit a crime but have helped another person commit a crime.