Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Richard Riley, was convicted of first degree assault after he and another man, Edward Portalla, opened fire on a group of people, seriously wounding two individuals. The Defendant appeals on the theory that the state could not prove who actually wounded the individuals.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a defendant solicits, encourages, or assists another to engage in conduct, and does so with the intent to promote or facilitate that conduct, the defendant becomes accountable for that conduct.
However, the complicitor must be aware that the principal is engaging in conduct that grossly deviates from the standard of reasonable care and poses a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death to another.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Did the trial court erroneously instruct the jury on accomplice liability?
Held. No. Convictions upheld. Under Alaska law, when two or more people are jointly accountable for criminal conduct constituting an unintended injury or death, the culpable mental state applies to the State’s prosecution of all participants, whether they acted as principals or accomplices, and regardless of whether the resulting injury or death can be linked beyond a reasonable doubt to a particular defendant’s conduct. Here, both the Defendant and Portalla acted with a reckless disregard for human life. Even though only one could have committed the first degree assault, since both had the culpable mental state, both may be convicted of the crime. Therefore, the jury instruction was not erroneous, and the conviction was upheld.
Discussion. Importantly, under accomplice liability theories, the culpable mental state drives the conviction. In other words, actual causation is irrelevant so long as each defendant acted with the requisite mental state and one of the defendants actually caused the injury or death.