Principal Theory

For some criminal prosecutions under the principal theory, the prosecutor does not have to prove that you were the primary or even the secondary participant in a crime to be equally guilty of the whole crime.

Using the principal theory, the prosecutor might only be required to prove that you helped out in some small way by either aiding or abetting.

In Florida, the courts have found that “[g]iving the [‘P]rincipals[‘] instruction is error when there is no evidence that the defendant had a conscious intent that the crime be committed and did some act or said some word which was intended to and in fact did incite a third party to commit the crime with which the defendant is charged.” Hanks v. State, 43 So. 3d 917, 918 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010) (citation omitted).

“Mere presence at the scene of an offense is not sufficient to support a [‘P]rincipals[‘] instruction.” Id. (citation omitted). For example, in Rocker v. State, 122 So. 3d 898, 902 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), the Court found that the defendant’s mere presence at the scene, knowledge of the offense, and flight from the scene were insufficient to support his conviction as a principal for another person’s conduct.

Likewise, in Davila v. State, 988 So. 2d 35, 38 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008), the court found the state presented insufficient evidence for principal liability where “the only evidence connecting [the defendant] to the criminal activities was his knowledge that the others wanted to commit a robbery and his presence in the vehicle when the robbery and murder were committed.”

Attorney for Principal Theory Crimes

If you were arrested for the criminal acts of another, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm. We can help you understand how the principal theory works under Florida law.

We can file motions to prohibit the prosecutor from using this theory to prove their case when appropriate.

Call 813-250-0500.

Principal in First Degree

Whoever commits any criminal offense against the state, whether felony or misdemeanor, or aids, abets, counsels, hires, or otherwise procures such offense to be committed, and such offense is committed or is attempted to be committed, is a principal in the first degree and may be charged, convicted, and punished as such, whether he or she is or is not actually or constructively present at the commission of such offense.

NOTE: A lookout or a getaway car driver in a store robbery would be examples, even though neither person ever enters the store.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.