Murder and Principals


          Earlier this week, Palm Beach Post writer Susan Spencer-Wendel wrote an article entitled "She's guilty of murder, but shooter's free" in which she recounted how a young woman named Ashley Ramirez was convicted of robbery and first-degree murder with a firearm even though the jury who decided her case found that she did fire the gun that killed the victim nor did she even possess it.  Following the verdict, Ms. Ramirez repeatedly asked the judge how she could be convicted of murder even though she wasn't the one who shot the victim.


           Ms. Ramirez' question is one that is frequently asked in varying forms by people who are accused of committing crimes along with others.  For example, a person who is accused of trafficking in cocaine may wonder why he was charged even though it was his co-defendant who actually delivered the cocaine to the undercover police officer.  Or, to use another example, someone who is charged with theft may wonder why she was charged even though it was her co-defendant who actually stole the merchandise.


          The answer is that the people in these examples are being charged as principals.  According to this legal tenet, if someone helps another person commit a crime (or even attempt to commit a crime), the former individual is a principal and must be treated as if he did all the things the other person did if two conditions are met:


          1.  He had a conscious intent that a crime be committed; and


          2.  He "did some act or said some word which was intended to and which did incite, cause, encourage, assist or advise the other person" to actually commit or attempt to commit a crime.


           In addition, someone who is charged as a principal does not even have to be physically present when the crime is committed.


          It is because of the principal theory that Ashley Ramirez can be convicted of murder and robbery even though the jury found that she was not the one who actually killed and robbed the victim and even though the person who did actually kill and rob the victim has never been formally charged with doing so.

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