The Hand of One is the Hand of All – Accomplice Liability

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What does “the hand of one is the hand of all” really mean?

Cops will often tell people it means that everyone present is guilty. Your friend was caught shoplifting? You’re guilty too. Your passenger in your car tossed their drugs under the car seat? You’re both going to jail…

Except, they’re wrong.

Maybe they’re lying to get you to talk, or maybe they really don’t know what the law says about the hand of one is the hand of all, but it’s wrong. In this article, we will discuss accomplice liability, the proper legal term for “the hand of one is the hand of all,” including:

  • What the hand of one is the hand of all really means,
  • Why cops get it wrong (or lie about it), and
  • Examples of the hand of one is the hand of all.

What Does “The Hand of One is the Hand of All” Mean?

“The hand of one is the hand of all” is legal slang for “accomplice liability.”

The “principal” is the person whom the state believes actually committed the crime. Even if you did not pull the trigger or walk inside the home that was burglarized, though, you could be convicted as an “accomplice” – and be subject to the same criminal penalties as the principal – if the state can prove that:

  1. You were present when the crime was committed,
  2. You knew the crime was happening, and
  3. You participated in the crime in some way.

Why Cops Get “The Hand of One is the Hand of All” Wrong

Police often tell people that “the hand of one is the hand of all” means that anyone present when the crime was committed can be charged.

It’s not true – that’s the first element of accomplice liability, but it only applies when the person knew about the crime and participated in it. So why do cops keep telling people this?

In some cases, the police officer just doesn’t know – they weren’t paying attention that day at the academy maybe, or perhaps they don’t recall the training materials.

In most cases, though, the police officer is simply lying to try and get someone to talk. For example, if the police find drugs on the floorboard of a car, they might tell the occupants of the car that everyone is going to jail unless someone claims the drugs, because, you know, “the hand of one is the hand of all.”

The officer probably knows they can’t get a conviction on someone simply for being in the vehicle, but they also know that the person the drugs belonged to 1) probably doesn’t want their friends to get arrested because of them and 2) a “confession” will make their job easier and a conviction almost certain…

Mere Presence

Mere presence at the scene of a crime is never enough to convict a person, and, if your case goes to trial and the evidence shows that you were “merely present,” you should be acquitted of the charges.

The state must also prove knowledge and participation in the crime.

Mere Association

Just as mere presence is insufficient for a conviction, mere association is also not enough to convict a person.

It doesn’t matter what your friend or associate did, you are not guilty of that thing unless you knew what they were doing and participated in the crime.

Examples of “The Hand of One is the Hand of All”

So, what is accomplice liability?

You might be convicted of accomplice liability if the state proves that:

  • You were the lookout as another person broke into a residence, even if you never went inside and never left the car,
  • Your friend murdered someone during a robbery, even if you did not intend for them to kill someone if it was “reasonably foreseeable” – also known as the “felony murder rule,” or
  • You and your friends get into a fight with other people at a bar, and your friend severely injures one of the other people – also known as “assault and battery by mob.”

What is not accomplice liability?

  • You helped plan a robbery, but you were not present when the robbery was committed (this is accessory before the fact – which also allows you to be punished for the crime, but it is a different legal theory),
  • Your friend committed a murder, and you later helped to dispose of the body or other evidence (this is accessory after the fact, which carries a lesser punishment than accessory before the fact or accomplice liability), or
  • Your friend throws a bag of marijuana on the ground as a police officer approaches (this is mere presence or mere association, not accomplice liability or constructive possession).

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, SC, and Myrtle Beach, SC

The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.

If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.