Accomplices, Accessories, Mens Rea, and More:

I thought I'd briefly chime in on the legal dispute between Orin and David Kopel. I stress that I'm speaking here only of the legal dispute (as was Orin). The question is whether UN officials' (and by extension the UN's) actions would make them accomplices under U.S. law in a Hezbollah kidnapping, given the factual account that David set forth -- several UN peacekeepers take bribes from Hezbollah to assist in the kidnapping, and then top UN officials authorize the destruction or concealment evidence with the purpose of covering up the peacekeepers' misconduct (though not necessarily the purpose of helping Hezbollah). We're also all applying U.S. law, rather than, say, Lebanese or Indian or Israeli law, because the question is whether it's sensible to use the label "accomplice" to an overwhelmingly U.S. audience, and not whether particular people are likely to be convicted of particular offenses in the likely jurisdiction.

Here are my thoughts; I may be mistaken (unlike Orin, I've only taught crim law for a year, though I did study some of the mens rea / accomplice rules pretty closely for my Crime-Facilitating Speech article), and the matter is complex because some of the rules vary from American jurisdiction, but this is my sense of the matter.

1a. In most U.S. jurisdictions, to be guilty of aiding a crime under an "aiding and abetting" theory, also sometimes called an "accessory before the fact" theory, one (generally speaking) needs to help the criminal with the purpose that the crime be committed. Mere knowledge that one is helping bring about the crime, but in the absence of such purpose, isn't enough.

1b. But in a significant minority of U.S. jurisdiction, aiding and abetting liability can be satisfied even by a showing of help plus mere knowledge. E.g., People v. Spearman, 491 N.W.2d 606, 610 (Mich. Ct. App. 1992) ("To find a defendant guilty on an aiding and abetting theory, the people must show that (1) a crime was committed either by the defendant or by another, (2) the defendant performed acts or gave encouragement that aided or assisted in the commission of the crime, and (3) the defendant intended the commission of the crime or had knowledge that the principal intended its commission at the time he gave aid or encouragement"), overruled as to other matters, People v. Veling, 504 N.W.2d 456 (Mich. 1993); Ind. Code § 35-41-2-4 ("A person who knowingly or intentionally aids, induces, or causes another person to commit an offense commits that offense ...."). Some jurisdiction treat knowing-but-not-purposeful assistance as the separate crime of facilitation, but some (including those I just pointed to) treat is as ordinary aiding and abetting.

1c. There's also some authority -- though I'm not sure how widely it's followed -- for the proposition that the rule should be purpose (plus, of course, aid) for aiding merely "[v]enial crime[s]," but knowledge for "[h]einous crime[s]." People v. Lauria, 59 Cal. Rptr. 628, 633-35 (Ct. App. 1967).

2. OK, that's for standard aiding and abetting, for instance driving someone to a crime scene, acting as a lookout, and so on -- the sort of thing that the U.N. peacekeepers are accused of. But the U.N. high officials are being accused of covering up the crime after the fact. Here the question is whether they are "accessor[ies] after the fact," people who affirmatively help a felon escape capture after the crime is committed. Here the law generally requires only knowledge that the felony has been committed, though possibly plus the purpose of helping cover up the felony. The purpose to have helped in the felony in the first instance is unnecessary. Corpis Juris Secundum, Criminal Law § 140, states that "An accessory after the fact is one who, knowing a felony to have been committed receives, relieves, comforts, or assists the felon, or in any manner aids him to escape arrest or punishment." (There are problems with relying on legal encyclopedias as opposed to binding authorities such as cases or statutes, but here I think it's apt, because we're looking for the general view throughout the U.S. jurisdictions, so short of a 50-state survey the encyclopedia or a treatise is the best bet.) Similarly, the federal accessory-after-the-fact statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3, states that "Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact."

Therefore, under the facts set forth in David's post, the U.N. high officials' actions would likely make them accessories after the fact, because they knew that the peacekeepers (who were likely liable for at least some felony) had committed a crime, and were acting with the purpose of helping them evade capture. It does not matter whether the U.N. high officials had the purpose of advancing Hezbollah's goals; it's enough that they had the purpose of helping their subordinates evade capture.

3. So under the facts as described, the U.N. high officials would be accessories after the fact -- but would they be accomplices? The modern view seems to be "no," but not uncontroversially. Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 727 (3d ed. 1982), as cited in Black's Law Dictionary, reports, "There is some authority for using the word 'accomplice' to include all principals and all accessories, but the preferred usage is to include all principals and accessories before the fact, but to exclude accessories after the fact." The federal courts definitely take this latter view, though the contrary view survives at times, especially in casual use; see, e.g., U.S. v. Payner (1980) (Marshall, J., dissenting) (opining that allowing the admission of illegally gathered evidence would make a federal court "the accomplice of the Government lawbreaker, an accessory after the fact"); Minn. Stat. Ann. ยง 609.495 (calling accessories after the fact "accomplice[s] after the fact"); United States v. Irwin, 149 F.3d 565, 571 (7th Cir. 1998) (same); People v. Dye, 427 N.W.2d 501, 512 (1988) (same); Purvis v. State, 208 Ga. App. 653, 654 (1993) (same); People v. Knapp, 441 N.E.2d 1057, 1067 n.1 (N.Y. 1982) (Jasen, J., dissenting) (same).

Thus, my tentative sense is: (1) It's probably better to describe people who act as the U.N. officials were alleged to have acted as "accessories" rather than "accomplices." There's a good deal of precedent, though, for using the term "accomplice"; and in any event, the two have similar enough connotation that in casual discussion little harm is done by substituting one for the other (though in careful legal discussion it might be clearer to follow what seems to be the dominant view and limit "accomplice" to accessories before the fact).

(2) A person or institution may be liable as an accessory after the fact (or, if you prefer, an accomplice after the fact) even if the person (or, for an institution, the institution's responsible actors) had no desire that the underlying crime be committed. Knowledge that they're helping the offenders escape, coupled with the purpose that the offenders escape (for instance, if the purpose is simply to cover up the offenders' crime so as to avoid embarrassment for the offenders' employers), suffices.

Please do let me know if I'm mistaken on any of these points.