Brief Fact Summary.
Pace was charged as an accessory before the fact after he stayed silent as a passenger in his car robbed a hitchhiker they recently picked up.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
There can be no criminally liability for accessory before the fact simply because a defendant stayed silent or was merely present.
Pace (defendant) was driving with his wife, two kids, and one William Rootes. Pace stopped to pick up a hitchhiker and when the hitchhiker entered the vehicle Rootes pulled out a knife and ordered the hitchhiker to give him his wallet. The hitchhiker complied and Pace pulled the car over. After Pace pulled the car over Rootes also demanded the Hitchhikers watch. Throughout all of these events Pace stayed quiet and made no attempt to stop Rootes. Pace was charged as an accessory before the fact.
Whether there can be criminally liability for a charge of accessory before the fact simply because a defendant stayed silent or was merely present.
No. A defendants simple presence or silence cannot be the basis for a charge of accessory before the fact.
To sustain a conviction as an accomplice, there must be evidence of the defendant's affirmative conduct, either in the form of acts or words, from which an inference of common design or purpose to effect the commission of a crime may be reasonably drawn.View Full Point of Law
In order for a defendant to be charged with accessory before the fact i.e. accompolice liability, they must take some affirmative steps to assist the principal in committing the crime and mere silence or presence can not serve as a basis for guilt. Here, there is no evidence that Pace took any affirmative steps to assist Rootes in the robbery and no evidence that he aided or abetted. Even though Pace had knowledge of the crime, the law does not impose a duty on a defendant to prevent criminal activity based on the fact they are present while the crime is being committed.