Principal is not your Pal

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I am not referring to Principal Skinner or many of the fine educators across this country. I am referring to Florida’s Principal Statute. The Principal Statute is found at Fl. Stat. 777.011 and the jury instruction based on the statute says:

“If the defendant helped another person or persons commit or attempt to commit a crime, the defendant is a principal and must be treated as if he or she had done all the things the other person or persons did if 1-the defendant had a conscious intent that hte criminal act be done and 2-the defendant did some act or said some work which was intended to and which did incite, cause, encourage, assist or advise the other person or persons to actually commit or attempt to commit that crime.”

This means that if a person has any role in a crime, that person is treated as if he or she committed the crime alone.

The best example I have heard explaining the Principal Statute involves a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant.  There are workers who take the order at the speaker. There are cashiers who collect the money.  There are workers who cook and prepare the food. There are workers who package and bag the food. There are workers who hand the food to the customers.  There are even workers who clean the restaurant kitchen or other areas.  All the workers are principals to the act of serving food to customers despite their different roles in the process.

The Principal Statute is especially troublesome for juveniles who hang around children that commit crimes.  The mere appearance of cooperation could be enough to have all children charged with a crime, even if the child was not actually involved.  Despite a playing a minor role in the crime, everyone involved is supposed to be charged and convicted of the same crime.

I have seen plenty of situations where the principal statute was unfairly applied to a person’s case; however, there was nothing that could be done.  In one case, I saw a judge sentence the getaway driver to a crime to more years in prison that the person who actually held the occupants of the house at gunpoint.  The judge said his sentence was just because without the getaway driver driving to the location, the crime would not have occurred. Our criminal justice system is not based on fairness or equity.  It is simply based on the laws in place and judges following the laws.  The prinicipal statute is one law that people should be aware of because it has huge consequences for so many people.

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