There is no legal basis for finding someone guilty by association in U.S. courts. However, in criminal law, joint enterprise refers to an instance of criminal conspiracy or group negligence.
When there is potentially more than one party to a single crime, it is possible for law enforcement to charge everyone present, even if only one person is responsible for the act in question.
Examples of joint enterprise crimes
You can face arrest and conviction for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Under the law of imputed negligence, each person in a group has the equal right to control the conduct of the others. Here are a few applicable scenarios:
- You are hanging out with a group of friends, and one person in your group attacks someone with a deadly weapon
- You physically or verbally encourage your friend to commit a robbery or assault
- You are aware of a plan to commit a crime, and you do nothing to stop it from happening
Ongoing legal controversy
The idea of joint enterprise is centuries old and very controversial due to the premise that society can hold you responsible for the actions of someone else. Prosecutors rely on joint enterprise, especially when dealing with gang-related violent crimes. However, judges have misinterpreted the doctrine and set in place a threshold of blame that is too low for secondary participants. The result has been a miscarriage of justice for minority populations across the country.
If you get arrested for someone else’s crime, it is important to remain calm and remember your rights.