Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
In the commission of the crime, both the actor and the one who aids and abets him are principals in the first degree, and may be charged and convicted of the crime under Fla. Stat. ch. 777.011. It is not necessary that the aider or abettor be physically present aiding and abetting his partner or partners in the crime. However, he must be sufficiently near or so situated as to aid or encourage or to render assistance to the actual perpetrator. The guilt of an aider or abettor, of course, can be established by circumstantial evidence. However, that evidence must be both consistent with guilt, and inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence.
Three black males, Michael Gains, Lonnie Williams, and a third juvenile (not tried in the present case) entered into the First National Bank, and, while brandishing pistols, took some of the bank’s money. As the three robbers left the bank, they walked slowly across the parking lot and calmly got into a car which has been parked far away from the bank. While in the parking lot, the three men were not seen to be carrying guns, the masks worn during the robbery, or money. The driver, Joseph Williams, had not been inside the bank. The car pulled slowly out of the lot, stopping because of traffic and obeying signals. A witness waived down a police car which immediately gave chase. During the chase, Lonnie Williams fired his pistol at the officer approximately 15 times, and on several occasions, reached into the back seat as if getting aid or ammunition. Michael Gains, and Joseph Williams were convicted of two counts of armed robbery, while Lonnie Williams was convicted of two counts of armed robbery and attempted murder. The defendants challenged their conviction, with Joseph Williams specifically arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal.
Under the circumstances, did the trial court err in convicting the defendants?
Yes, with respect to Joseph Williams. No, with respect to the other defendants.
With respect to the guilt of Joseph Williams, the court noted that in the commission of the crime, both the actor and the one who aided and abetted him were principals in the first degree and may be charged and convicted of the crime. It was not necessary that the aider or abettor be physically present aiding and abetting his partner or partners in the crime. However, he must be sufficiently near or so situated as to aid or encourage or to render assistance to the actual perpetrator. In the present case, it was apparent that Joseph Williams was not an active participant in the armed robbery. The prosecution’s evidence that, as the driver of the car, Joseph Williams was a knowing participant in the crime was circumstantial. The mere fact that he fled from the scene after the crime did not exclude the reasonable inference that he had no knowledge of the crime until it actually occurred, and thus, he did not intend to assist in its commission. The court averred that the evidence merely placed Joseph Williams in the automobile outside the scene of the crime. There was no evidence that he had seen his companions carrying guns or that he had heard them discussing the crime prior to its inception. There was absolutely no showing that he acted as a lookout for the trio. Thus, the evidence reasonably supported the inference that, although Joseph Williams may have been in the general vicinity of the crime, he had no knowledge of his companions’ intentions and attempted to flee only upon being apprised of their actions while in the bank. Accordingly, the court discharged Joseph Williams because double jeopardy prevented the retrial of a defendant whose conviction was reversed for insufficiency of the evidence. As to the other defendants, the court found no error in denial of mistrial. As to defendants' contention regarding improper prosecutorial comment, the court held that the comments did not go to the failure of defendant to take the stand, and there was no issue as to defendants' intent to deprive the bank of funds. The convictions and sentences of the remaining defendants were affirmed.