Under Colorado law, complicity (being an accomplice) is participation in criminal activity with another person or persons. When you help or encourage another to commit a crime, it can lead to the same criminal charges as if you had committed the crime yourself.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is complicity in Colorado?
- 2. How does being an accomplice apply to criminal charges?
- 3. What are the penalties for complicity in a criminal offense?
- 4. Is complicity the same as conspiracy?
- 5. What is an accessory to a crime?
1. What is complicity in Colorado?
Complicity is the doctrine that you (an accomplice) can be held accountable for a crime if you
- solicited, or
the criminal actions of another person. This includes assisting with the crime
- before it takes place,
- while it is happening, and
- after the offense has been committed.
“A person is legally accountable as principal for the behavior of another constituting a criminal offense if, with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense, he or she aids, abets, advises, or encourages the other person in planning or committing the offense.”1
This doctrine is not a separate criminal offense and no one can be charged with counts of “complicity” or “being an accomplice.” It is essentially a principle of law that allows prosecutors to treat you the same as the person who committed the crime, no matter how small a role that you played in the crime.
2. How does being an accomplice apply to criminal charges?
Complicity is charged as if you had committed the crime. There is no separate crime of complicity.
Instead, if a prosecutor believes you are complicit by promoting or facilitating the commission of a crime, you may be charged with the underlying crime committed by another person.2
Example: Aaron tells his friend Becky about a store that does not lock their safe at night. Aaron gives Becky a description of the room where the safe is held and tells her what time the guard goes on break. Becky calls her friend Carl and tells him about the plan to rob the store. Carl agrees to drive Becky to the store and wait outside. When Becky breaks in and steals the money, she gets caught and is arrested.
In this example, Aaron, Becky, and Carl can all be charged with burglary. Even though Becky was the only one who broke into the store to commit a crime, both Aaron and Carl are accomplices to the crime. Aaron told Becky about the opportunity to commit the crime and Carl helped by driving Becky to the scene of the crime.
Second-degree burglary of a store may be charged as a class 4 felony, with penalties including 2-6 years in prison, and a fine of up to $500,000. Aaron, Becky, and Carl could all face felony burglary charges for their role in the crime.
3. What are the penalties for complicity in a criminal offense?
The penalties for an accomplice to a criminal offense are the same as those for committing a criminal offense. The minimum and maximum penalty range will still apply, even if you only had a small role in the crime.
Depending on the level of participation and role in the crime, minor participation could be considered a mitigating factor. Mitigating factors may reduce the possibility of facing the maximum penalty.
4. Is complicity the same as conspiracy?
The crime of “conspiracy” in Colorado is not the same as complicity. A criminal conspiracy is an agreement made with one or more other people to commit a crime and act in furtherance of the plan.
There are two primary differences between a conspiracy and complicity.
- Conspiracy does not require successful completion of the crime.
- Complicity may not require active participation in the crime.
Conspiracy can be a crime itself. Conspiracy to commit a crime does not require the crime to have taken place. Simply agreeing to commit a crime and taking some action in furtherance of the crime is a criminal offense.
Meanwhile if you and at least one other person go through with the crime, you may face charges for both the offense and for conspiracy to commit the offense.
Conspiracy requires some action taken in furtherance of the crime. Complicity can involve an accomplice taking no action towards completing the crime or merely remaining silent.
- encouraging, or
- soliciting another to commit a crime, before or after the act,
may be charged as if you committed the crime.
5. What is an accessory to a crime?
Complicity is related to the principle of being an accessory to a crime. However, you are an accessory if you offer assistance to someone who
- has committed a crime or
- is suspected of a crime.
Under C.R.S. 18-8-105, being an accessory to a crime in Colorado is a separate offense. Penalties depend on the seriousness of the other person’s offense.
Call us for help…
If you are facing criminal charges because of someone else’s criminal actions, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group.
- C.R.S. 18-1-603
- See, for example, Butler v. People (2019) CO 87, 450 P.3d 714.; People v. Childress (2015) CO 65M, 363 P.3d 155.