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Examples of Guilt by Association

Posted in Criminal Defense,General FAQ'S on December 18, 2019

You have probably heard the term “guilty by association” since you were young. Also known as the “association fallacy,” this is the assumption that a person is guilty of something, not because of any evidence to prove they are guilty, but rather because they are associated with someone who is guilty. Today, we want to discuss what being guilty by association looks like when it comes to the legal system and how it can affect a person charged with a crime.

What does guilt by association mean?

To understand guilt by association, it will help to look at some hypothetical examples (that have more than likely happened in real life).

  • Police arrive at a party and find that everyone is under 21 years of age. Not everyone had been drinking, but police arrest all parties involved under the assumption that they were all participating.
  • Police discover that a murder may have been committed by members of a certain gang. When they make a raid on a known gang house, they arrest the suspects of the murder as well as several people who are not part of the gang who were simply there based on guilt by association.

A more recent example of guilt by association, at least in the media, is the case of the shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. It has been determined that a Saudi Arabian national committed a shooting and the FBI has labeled this as an act of terrorism. Other Saudi nationals studying at the base have helped authorities in the investigation, but many in the public have said they are guilty of a crime with no evidence of such. This is a version of being guilty by association – the shooter was a Saudi national, so the other Saudis at the base are facing repercussions based simply on their national origin (This incident is still under active investigation, though no charges have been filed as of this writing).

There is no “guilty by association” charge

You will not find a statute in California that specifically states a person can be charged with a crime due to their association with someone who commits a crime. However, that does not mean a person will not face charges of a crime they did not commit. People are charged with crimes they did not commit all the time.

Our legal system works in a way such that both sides have a chance to present evidence. If a person is charged with a crime due to their association with someone else, but prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to prove they actually committed a crime, then that person should be found not guilty. This is not always the case, and anyone charged with a crime faces an uphill battle. A skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to punch holes in a prosecution pursues charges made based on a person’s association with someone else.

Accessory to a crime is different

Accessory to a crime is a valid charge that a person can face, but it differs from being guilty by association. If a person is deemed to be an accessory to a crime, police and prosecutors will typically have to prove a person assisted those who committed the crime. This can include:

  • Taking steps to hide evidence of a crime that has been committed.
  • Willingly evading police in a getaway vehicle after a friend robs a store, even if the driver was unaware their friend intended to commit a robbery.
  • A person helped planned a bank robbery, including scouting guard change times for the people who actually commit the robbery.

If you were charged a crime and need legal representation ASAP, contact Riverside Criminal defense attorney, Graham Donath for a free consultation.