The Utah Court of Appeals recently decided State v. Binkerd, 2013 UT App 216 wherein the court addressed whether a defendant could be found guilty of accomplice liability for a general intent crime such as manslaughter.
In Binkerd, the defendant was the head of a gang. His right hand man was Alvey. There was a female associate of their gang who they found out was a snitch, that is, she was reporting some of the gang’s activity to law enforcement. When they found out, defendant put a “green light” on her, that is, an order to kill her. Alvey held a gun to her head one night and said she was dead, but that he wouldn’t do it there. Subsequently, Alvey took her up a canyon where they smoked meth. Alvey notified Binkerd that he was taking the snitch up the canyon and Binkerd purportedly told Alvey not to bring her back. Alvey shot the victim four times and she subsequently died. Binkerd ordered the gun Alvey used to be destroyed. They were both arrested for murder and aggravated murder charges.
Alvey pled guilty of aggravated murder in exchange for the prosecution not seeking the death penalty if Alvey would testify against Binkerd. Binkerd went to trial and was convicted of manslaughter under an accomplice liability standard, but was acquitted of murder and aggravated murder. On appeal, the court addressed whether defendant could be convicted of manslaughter, a general intent crime, under an accomplice liability standard. Murder is a specific intent crime.
Utah’s accomplice liability statute provides that “[e]very person,acting with the mental state required for the commission of an offense who directly commits the offense, who solicits, requests, commands, encourages, or intentionally aids another person to engage in conduct which constitutes an offense shall be criminally liable as a party for such conduct.” Utah Code Ann. § 76‐2‐202. Binkerd argued that he “cannot be tried as an accomplice for a crime that is different from the conviction of the original actor.” The court disagreed and found that Binkerd had the requisite intent to commit manslaughter, which was the principal offense. Murder was not the principal offense.