Your cousin asked you to drive him to a convenience store. He ran in to pick up some lottery tickets, then came running out, jumped in your car and told you to take off. Later, you learned he’d committed an armed robbery inside the store. Can you be arrested when you had no idea what your cousin had been planning? The answer depends on whether the judge or jury believes in your lack of intent.

When two or more persons engage in a common criminal design, any acts to further that design committed by one party are considered to be the acts of all parties. All are thus equally responsible for the consequences. You would be accountable for your cousin’s crime if, either before or during the crime, you solicit, aid, abet, agree, or attempt to aid him in planning or committing the offense, and you had the intent to promote or facilitate that offense. See 720 ILCS 5/5-2(c). The State may prove your intent by showing either (1) that you shared the criminal intent of the principal, or (2) that there was a common criminal design. You are not guilty for the other’s offense unless you intended to aid in committing a crime. Participation must take place before or during the offense; after the fact is not sufficient.

Mere being at the scene of a crime does not make you accountable but your presence may be considered along with other circumstances by judge or jury.

Even if you were in on the plan, you are not accountable if (1) you are a victim of the offense committed; (2) the offense is so defined that whatever you did was inevitably incident to its commission; or (3) before the commission of the offense, you terminated your participation and either: (i) made your past efforts wholly ineffective, (ii) warned police, or (iii) otherwise made proper effort to prevent the offense.

In People v. Johnson, the defendant owned a taxi business. One evening, a man named Mason asked defendant for a ride, paying him $10. At a certain point, Mason told defendant to stop the car and started shooting an automatic weapon. Defendant then sped away in fear for his life. The trial judge convicted the defendant. However, the appellate court instead found the evidence too weak to uphold his conviction. Defendant was not a gang member, and there was no evidence that he knew of Mason’s intentions or that Mason even had a gun. Therefore, the state failed to prove all the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. As the case above illustrates, different judges see the same set of facts very differently. An attorney who is familiar with your particular judge may better present the facts of your particular case in their most favorable light.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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