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United States v. Lopez

Citation. 662 F. Supp. 1083, 1987 U.S. Dist. 5565.
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Brief Fact Summary.

This action arose from Ronald McIntosh’s (McIntosh) landing of a helicopter on the grounds of the Federal Correctional Institution in order to effectuate the escape of his girlfriend, the Defendant, Samantha Lopez (Defendant).

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A defendant can be convicted of aiding and abetting even if the principal is not identified or convicted. However, an aider and abettor may not be held liable absent proof that a criminal offense was committed by a principal.


McIntosh and the Defendant were arrested 10 days after the Defendant’s escape from the correctional institution and were charged with various offenses, including prison escape. The Defendant claimed that her life was unlawfully threatened by correctional institution authorities. Prior to the time of trial, the Defendant indicated that her intent was to raise a necessity and/or duress defense. Subsequently, McIntosh requested a jury instruction that stated that if the Defendant was found not guilty because she escaped as a result of necessity and/or duress, then McIntosh must be found not guilty of aiding and abetting her alleged escape.


Was there a justification or an excuse for the Defendant’s actions?


The court finds that the defense asserted by the Defendant most nearly resembles necessity, which is a justification to the alleged crime. As a result, if the jury finds the Defendant not guilty of escape by reason of necessity, her criminal act will be justified and the principal will have committed no criminal offense. As a result, McIntosh is entitled to his requested jury instruction.


The District Court spends much of the decision focusing on the distinction between justification and excuse. Justification defenses are those providing that, although a given act was committed, it is not wrongful. Justification defenses are often appropriate in situations where an individual acts to avoid a greater societal harm. Although the individual’s actions would normally invite criminal responsibility, we allow that person to escape liability because his actions served the greater good. Alternatively, an excuse is a defense that can be raised where, although a given act is wrongful, the actor will not be held accountable. Excuse defenses are often found within the context of insanity.

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