Accomplice Liability, Criminal Liability for the Act of Another, Co-Conspirator Liability
Defendant, who was part of a group blocking the driveway entrance to victim’s apartment, started a fight with the victim; after victim had been knocked to the ground, unidentified third person who was part of defendant’s group repeatedly sprayed mace into victim’s eyes, rendering victim helpless to fight back while defendant continued to punch and kick victim until police intervened.
Defendant was convicted in bench trial of aggravated assault, conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime (the mace that the third person used on victim). On appeal, defendant claimed that the trial court erred in convicting defendant of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon because the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant was both a co-conspirator and an accomplice of the third person who sprayed the victim with mace. Superior Court affirmed, agreeing with the trial court that:
[C]ircumstances such as an association between alleged conspirators, knowledge of the commission of the crime, presence at the scene of the crime, and/or participation in the object of the conspiracy, are relevant to prove a conspiracy, when “viewed in conjunction with each other and in the context in which they occurred.” Id. at 20 (citing Lambert, supra). The trial court concluded:
Here, the evidence is sufficient to support a finding that [Appellant] was a co-conspirator in assaulting the Complainant with mace. [Appellant] (1) entered into an agreement to commit or aid in an unlawful act with the woman or women who sprayed the mace when he engaged in a fight with the
Complainant; (2) with a shared criminal intent to assault the Complainant following a heated argument between the Complainant and [Appellant] over moving his co-conspirators[’] vehicle to unblock the driveway; and (3) the use of mace on the Complainant was done in furtherance of the conspiracy to blind him so that the Complainant could not defend himself and [Appellant] could physically assault him further. Id.
We agree with the trial court’s analysis and conclude that the court did not err in holding Appellant liable as both an accomplice and a conspirator.
157 A.3d at 514-15.
The Supreme Court granted allocatur to revisit issues of co-conspirator liability and accomplice liability, as phrased by the defendant:
(1) Is not the Superior Court’s holding in a published opinion that a defendant can be liable for the underlying conduct of another by virtue of being a co-conspirator inconsistent with the plain language of the governing statute, 18 Pa.C.S. § 306, which provides for accomplice liability only, and with this Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Knox, 105 A.3d 1194 (Pa. 2014)?
(2) Did not the Superior Court erroneously analyze accomplice liability, and incorrectly conclude that the evidence was sufficient to convict on that theory?
(3) Did not the Superior Court err in concluding that the evidence was sufficient to convict Appellant of conspiracy to assault the victim with Mace under 18 Pa.C.S. § 903, since he neither intended nor agreed to commit this crime?