Some have expressed concern that those who allegedly stood by while a 15-year-old girl was raped, beaten, and robbed outside of Richmond High School in Richmond, California, may not be prosecuted because of a 1999 law that makes it a misdemeanor not to report a crime against a child 14 years old or younger. But this ignores the possibility that the bystanders may be criminally liable as accomplices.
Under California law, anyone involved in the commission of a felony or misdemeanor counts as a “principal” in the crime, regardless of whether they directly committed the act constituting the offense or aided and abetted in its commission. It appears certain that some number of individuals (it’s not yet clear how many) were directly involved in acts constituting serious offenses against this young woman. What is less clear is how many individuals, if any, may have aided and abetted the offenses, and, if so, exactly how. Not enough facts have emerged about exactly what went on that night to draw any firm conclusions about the criminal liability of any of the alleged bystanders (in part because we do not yet know who the bystanders were). There are allegations that some bystanders merely stood by while others laughed, took pictures using cell phones, and/or encouraged the others to commit the crimes in question. What constitutes “aiding and abetting” is likely to emerge as a key question in this case. It’s going to involve intensive fact investigation on the part of the police and difficult line drawing on the part of the prosecutors. If the case goes to trial, precisely what constitutes aiding and abetting, assuming such charges are brought, will ultimately be a question for the jury.