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New York v. Kaplan

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was charged as an accomplice to criminal sale of a narcotic. The court then instructed the jury that to be found guilty as an accomplice, Defendant must have acted with knowledge that he was selling cocaine and must have intentionally aided in the sale of the cocaine. Defendant was convicted. The appellate division affirmed. The court of appeals granted Defendant leave to appeal.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under New York law, to be convicted as an accomplice a defendant must intentionally aid the principal but need only possess the mental culpability required for the underlying crime with which the defendant is charged.

    Facts.

    Murray Kaplan (Defendant) was involved in a cocaine ring led by Defendant’s cousin, Mike. During a police investigation into the operation, Detective Janis Grasso (Grasso) posed as a drug courier and arranged to purchase cocaine from Mike. When Grasso arrived at Mike’s office, Mike told Defendant, who was present at the office, to “take care of” Grasso. Defendant then retrieved a manila envelope from a file cabinet and placed it in front of Grasso. In exchange, Grasso handed Defendant $15,000 in cash. Defendant took the money and immediately began to count it. Defendant was subsequently charged as an accomplice to criminal sale of a narcotic. At trial, the defense requested the court to charge the jury that, to find Defendant guilty as an accomplice, the jury must find that Defendant had both specific intent to sell a narcotic and a shared intent or purpose with the principal actors. The court denied counsel’s request, noting that the mens rea required for criminal sale was not the specific intent to make a sale, but the knowledge that the substance sold was a narcotic. The court then instructed the jury that to be found guilty as an accomplice, Defendant must have acted with knowledge that he was selling cocaine and must have intentionally aided in the sale of the cocaine. Defendant was convicted. The appellate division affirmed. The court of appeals granted Defendant leave to appeal.

    Issue.

    Whether a defendant must intentionally aid the principal and possess the mental culpability required for the underlying crime with which the defendant is charged in order to be convicted as an accomplice.

    Held.

    Whether a defendant must intentionally aid the principal and possess the mental culpability required for the underlying crime with which the defendant is charged in order to be convicted as an accomplice.

    Discussion.

    If the crime charged is not a specific-intent crime, the law does not require a finding of specific intent to convict a defendant as an accomplice to that crime. The shared-intent doctrine was adopted by New York courts to protect innocent bystanders from accomplice liability before New York’s current statute relating to culpability was enacted. To that end, the law required that a person present at the crime scene share the intent or purpose of the principal actor before the person could be convicted as an accomplice. Here, as to Defendant’s mental culpability, or mens rea, the criminal-sale statute under which Defendant was charged requires only that Defendant knowingly sold a narcotic—not that Defendant possessed a specific intent to sell the drug. Defendant erroneously argues that New York’s shared intent or purpose requirement obligates the prosecution to prove that Defendant acted with specific intent to sell cocaine before Defendant could be convicted as an accomplice to criminal sale. This doctrine does not apply to Defendant. There is ample evidence that Defendant knew that the substance he handed to Grasso was cocaine and that Defendant intentionally aided Mike in selling the cocaine. Because specific intent to sell is not required by the statute, the jury instruction requested by Defendant was unnecessary.


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