Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Complicity Definition:

Accountable for a criminal offense committed by another due to previous knowledge of other's crime.

Related Terms: Accomplice

In Grissom v People, the Supreme Court of Colorado was presented with the facts of Dante Grissom having driven Darrick Love in search of Shante Cannon. When Love found Cannon, he shot him dead. Grissom was charged and convicted of first degree murder by complicity with Love's actions.

In her opinion for the majority, then-Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey of the Court overturned the conviction and ordered a trial on the lesser charge of manslaughter writing:

"Complicity is not a separate and distinct crime or offense. Rather, it is a theory by which a defendant becomes accountable for a criminal offense committed by another.

"[T]he intent necessary to be convicted as a complicitor only requires knowledge by the complicitor that the principal is engaging in, or about to engage in, criminal conduct."

In dissent in that same judgment, Justice Michael Bender wrote:

"Complicity is a legal theory which holds a defendant criminally liable for the same crime and punishment as the principal because the complicitor intentionally aided, abetted, or advised the principal who committed an offense. The doctrine serves to punish individuals who have played a distinct role in the commission of an offense without regard to whether they were or were not actually or constructively present at the time the crimes were committed....

"To prove that a defendant is complicit in the commission of a crime, the prosecution must prove a dual mental state before the complicitor may be held legally accountable for the offense of another. The complicitor must have: (1) the culpable mental state required for the underlying crime committed by the principal; and (2) the intent to promote or facilitate the crime committed by the principal.

"Criminal culpability in our system of justice arises out of the very basic theory that an individual is responsible for his own actions. Thus, accomplice liability stems from the concept that a defendant took a personal and active role in the participation of an offense and not simply because he may have done something that resulted in another's unlawful act. It is not sufficient that the defendant intentionally engaged in acts which ultimately assisted or encouraged the principal. Rather, the complicitor must intend that his conduct have the effect of assisting or encouraging the principal in committing or planning the crime committed by the principal."


  • Grissom v. People, 115 P. 3d 1280 (2005)

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