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The Law, You & Us
What is Joint Enterprise?
Criminal law generally only holds offenders liable for their own actions but, under the doctrine of joint enterprise, a person may be found guilty for another person's crime.
Simple association or accidental presence during a crime is insufficient for a charge under joint enterprise. A suspect must knowingly assist or encourage the crime and agree to act together with the primary offender for a common purpose. For example, the driver of a getaway vehicle can be charged with robbery under joint enterprise even if an accomplice actually perpetrated the crime.
Where Joint Enterprise Is Not Applicable
If one group member deviates from a plan, then joint enterprise may not be applicable because the assistance must be with knowledge. For instance, if a group agrees to vandalize property but one group member assaults and batters a passer-by without knowledge or assent of other members, the doctrine of joint enterprise is unlikely to be applicable.
The question remains whether a particular outcome was reasonably foreseeable or within the scope of a crime. If so, then a prosecutor may nevertheless properly proceed with a joint enterprise charge.
Joint Enterprise Complexity and Controversy
The doctrine of joint enterprise is controversial because a person can be held criminally liable for another's actions. Younger people have been disproportionately affected by the application of joint enterprise in recent years due to an increase in violent crimes committed by groups of youths.
Furthermore, whether suspects were engaged in a joint enterprise is more complex in specific intent crimes such as murder. In such cases, a jury might only hold the group liable up to the point of the crime requiring specific intent.
Prosecuting Charges of Joint Enterprise
Prosecutors consider a number of factors when deciding whether to pursue a joint enterprise charge including maturity or age, proportionality of the actual offense to possible sentence, harm to the victim, and premeditation. The prosecution must also be in the public interest.
Given the seriousness of being charged with a crime for which a suspect did not physically perpetrate, a prosecutor may elect to charge the suspect with a lesser crime rather than pursue a charge under joint enterprise if the conditions are not sufficiently persuasive. Additionally, no action for joint enterprise murder is sustainable unless the prosecution also secures a guilty verdict for the primary offender.
Defending Charges of Joint Enterprise
When defending a charge of joint enterprise, it is best to appoint an expert barrister who has been certified to handle serious cases or Queen's Counsel with demonstrated experience defending against a charge based on joint enterprise, due to the complexity of the doctrine. Established case law indicates the parameters of the doctrine of joint enterprise but the specific facts of each case are crucial to the defense of such a charge.
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