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Law School Case Brief

Riley v. State - 60 P.3d 204 (Alaska Ct. App. 2002)


When Alaska Stat. § 11.16.110(2) speaks of a person's "intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense," this phrase means that the accomplice must act with the intent to promote or facilitate the conduct that constitutes the actus reus of the offense. With respect to offenses that require proof of a particular result, the government must prove that the accomplice acted with the culpable mental state that applies to that result, as specified in the underlying statute. 


Defendants Richard L. Riley and another man, Edward F. Portalla, opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd of young people who were socializing around a bonfire. Two were seriously wounded. Riley and Portalla were indicted on two counts of first-degree assault and six counts of third-degree assault. Riley was ultimately convicted of all eight charges. At trial, the State faced a problem in prosecuting defendants for first-degree assault: the physical evidence (in particular, the ballistics analysis) did not reveal which of the defendants' weapons had fired the wounding shots. Thus, with respect to each victim, the State could prove that the wound was inflicted by one of the two defendants, but the State could not easily prove which defendant. The jurors were instructed that, with regard to each count of first-degree assault, they should decide whether Riley acted as a "principal" or, if they could not decide beyond a reasonable doubt which man fired the shots, they should decide whether Riley acted as an "accomplice" The jurors found Riley guilty as an accomplice in the wounding of both victims.  Riley argued that his convictions for first-degree assault are flawed because the jurors were misinstructed regarding the elements of accomplice liability. The alleged flaw concerns the culpable mental state that must be proved when the State alleges a defendant's complicity in another person's crime. In Echols v. State, 818 P.2d 691 (Alaska App. 1991), this Court addressed a situation where a wife was charged as an accomplice to first-degree assault committed by her husband. The State's evidence showed that the defendant summoned her husband to discipline their child, then stood by and watched while the husband inflicted serious physical injury on the child by whipping her with an electric cord. Relying on Echols, Defendant Riley appealed two convictions for first-degree assault.


Was the jury instruction on accomplice liability flawed because it failed to clearly inform the jurors that the State was obliged to prove that a defendant intended to have a co-defendant inflict serious physical injury on the victims?




The appellate court overruled the Echols case holding. To establish defendant's guilt, the State did not have to prove that defendant acted with the intention of causing serious physical injury. Rather, the State had to prove that defendant acted recklessly with respect to the possibility that serious physical injury would be inflicted on another person through: (1) defendant's own conduct; or (2) the conduct of another for which defendant was accountable under Alaska Stat. § 11.16.110. Defendant was convicted of first-degree assault under the theory that, acting with the intent to promote or facilitate the co-defendant's commission of first-degree assault, he aided or abetted the co-defendant to engage in the conduct that resulted in the victims' injuries.

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