An unarmed aider and abettor must KNOW the principal was armed in order to be liable for committing an armed offense.



Leon Robinson and Shanika Robinson v. United States, Nos. 11-CF-1443 and 11-CF-1502 (decided September 25, 2014).

Players: Associate Judges Glickman and Blackburne-Rigsby, Senior Judge Steadman. Opinion by Judge Glickman. PDS for Ms. Robinson. Phillip C. Zane for Mr. Robinson. Trial Judge William M. Jackson.

Facts: Ms. Robinson was accused of conspiring to kill Shahabuddin Rana, the owner of the Pizza Mart convenience store. According to the government, Ms. Robinson entered the Pizza Mart with Mr. Robinson and Isaiah Genus and was present while her companions stabbed Mr. Rana with a knife and struck him in the head with a hammer. (Mr. Robinson had brought the knife to the Pizza Mart; he found the hammer in the store during the attack.) After Mr. Rana was dead, the government contended that Ms. Robinson helped set fire to his body, stole several items from the store, and helped dispose of her companions’ bloody clothing and weapons. Ms. Robinson testified that she never entered the Pizza Mart.

During deliberations, the jury asked whether “knowledge of a weapon” is required for a conviction for armed burglary. Over Ms. Robinson’s objection, the trial court, relying on Fox v. United States, 903 A.2d 818 (D.C. 2011), instructed the jury that an aider an abettor need only know or have reason to know that the principal offender was armed. Slip op. at 15-16

Issue: Whether an aider and abettor may be found guilty of a while-armed offense if she merely had “reason to know” that the principal offender was armed.

Holding: No. Since the principal must knowingly be in control of the weapon, the unarmed aider and abettor must also know the principal is armed. Slip op. at 20 & n.17 (citing Wilson Bey, 903 A.2d 818, 831 (D.C. 2006) (en banc)).

Notes:

  • The government tried to limit the court's ruling to second degree burglary charges, but the DCCA rejected that argument. The court's reasoning in this case applies to aiding and abetting any while-armed offense.
  • Consider using this case to argue that an aider and abettor must know in advance that one of his accomplices would be armed, and that it is not sufficient for him to have merely acquired that knowledge at some point during the crime. While this decision didn't address that issue, the DCCA cited with approval a recent Supreme Court decision that did hold knowledge of the weapon must be acquired in advance. See Slip op. at 21 (citing Rosemond v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 1240, 1249-50 (2014)).
  • The DCCA directed the Redbook committee to rewrite its proposed instruction on aiding and abetting “while armed” offenses. The current instruction states that the government must prove that “the aider and abettor had actual knowledge that some type of weapon would be used to commit the offense.” Slip op. at 14 n. 22 (quoting Instruction 3.200). The DCCA noted that this instruction should be changed to require only knowledge that the principal is armed, not that the principal would use the weapon. Id.
  • To the extent Fox implies that it is sufficient for an unarmed aider and abettor to merely have reason to know that the principal is armed, the DCCA “disavow[ed]” that decision. Id. at 25-26. NG