U.S. Supreme Court rules on aiding and abetting case

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled on a case involving charges of aiding and abetting a drug trafficking crime involving a firearm.

Under what circumstances should an individual participating in a crime be responsible for the more serious actions of the others involved in the incident? The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of when someone should be found guilty of aiding and abetting a crime during its last session.

The case before the high court - Rosemond v. U.S. - dealt with a drug deal that resulted in a firearm being shot.

The facts of the case

The case arose when three individuals, including Rosemond, drove to a park to purportedly engage in a drug deal. Rosemond and the others intended to sell one pound of marijuana to two individuals.

When they arrived at the park, one of the buyers got into the backseat of the car. Whether Rosemond was in the front or back seat of the car is in dispute. Rather than paying for the marijuana, the buyer punched the backseat passenger in the face and ran away.

As the man attempted to escape, one of the passengers got out of the car, took out a semiautomatic handgun and fired a number of shots. The identity of the shooter is in dispute, although Rosemond contends he was not carrying the gun.

As no conclusive evidence proved Rosemond was the shooter, he was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §924(c) - using a firearm during the course of a drug trafficking crime - or aiding and abetting that federal crime, under 18 U.S.C. §2.

At the trial, the jury was instructed to convict Rosemond of aiding and abetting the crime, in part, if he "knew his cohort used a firearm in the drug trafficking crime." Consequently, the prosecution was able to argue that Rosemond knew a gun was used, as he was present when the shots were fired. Rosemond was convicted, although the jury was not required to determine whether he was the individual who fired the shots or not.

The majority opinion

In the 7-2 decision, Justice Kagan determined the instructions to the jury were in error and remanded the case to the lower court.

Specifically, the majority opinion explains that in order for an individual to be guilty of aiding and abetting such a crime, he or she must have "advance knowledge," that an individual is carrying a firearm. Justice Kagan defined "advance knowledge," as "knowledge that enables him to make the relevant legal (and indeed, moral) choice."

In other words, knowledge of the firearm at the moment the individual pulls out the gun and fires a shot is not sufficient. The individual charged with aiding and abetting must have been aware of the firearm at some point prior to the shooting of the weapon, to have a reasonable opportunity to walk away from the crime.

When someone is charged with a crime, he or she should take prompt action to make certain his or her interests are safeguarded. If you are facing federal criminal charges, take the time to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, who will work on your behalf to mount a robust defense.

Keywords: U.S. Supreme Court, aiding and abetting, federal crime