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Hicks v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Hicks (Defendant), was jointly indicted with another man on one count of murder. Defendant had been present when his companion (co-defendant) shot and killed a man at the conclusion of a discussion. Defendant then rode off on horseback with co-defendant after the shooting. Defendant was subsequently captured and convicted of murder.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The presence of another person at the scene of a murder who does not assist in carrying out the murder is not sufficient to implicate that person as an accomplice in the absence of evidence of a prior agreement to render assistance in the crime.

    Facts. Defendant was present while co-defendant fatally shot another person and left the crime scene with co-defendant after the shooting. Defendant did not render assistance in actually completing the crime, but merely acted in the capacity of a witness. There was testimony from witnesses further away that Defendant took off his own hat and told the victim to “take off your hat and die like a man” immediately before his co-defendant fired his gun.

    Issue. Is a person an accomplice to the crime of murder merely by his presence at the crime scene when the killing takes place, though he does not render assistance in completing the crime and there is no evidence of a prior agreement to render assistance?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    The trial court was in error in charging the jury that Defendant qualified as an accomplice to the murder even if he did not render any assistance in the act because his assistance may merely have been unnecessary at the time. In the absence of evidence that co-defendants conspired to aid one another in killing the victim, which aid ultimately proved unnecessary, Defendant’s mere presence at the crime scene cannot alone confer on him the status and criminal responsibility, of an accomplice. Defendant’s statement to victim prior to the shooting was too ambiguous to infer a prior conspiracy between co-defendants to kill the victim.


    Discussion. In this case, the court held that Defendant had not been sufficiently involved in the victim’s murder to constitute being convicted as an accomplice in the act itself.


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