We are all familiar with the general concept of accomplice liability: as any 1L knows, I am guilty of bank robbery even if I am only the getaway driver and never enter the bank or touch any cash. Less well-known and well–accepted is the natural and probable consequences (NPC) doctrine, which holds an accomplice liable not only for the crime she intentionally aids and abets — referred to as the “target crime” — but also for any reasonably foreseeable other crime the perpetrator commits. Under the NPC doctrine, if I drive my confederate to the bank and she not only robs it but also fatally shoots the security guard in the process, I am also guilty of murder, so long as the shooting was a natural and probable consequence of the bank robbery.

Since its modern California incarnation, the NPC doctrine has been applied to more and more factual scenarios, with courts requiring less and less of a connection between the defendant and the committed, non-target crime. In People v. Nguyen, 21 Cal.App.4th 518 (1993), the court of appeal found that a sexual assault was the NPC of a robbery, facts which prompted Justice Antonin Scalia to joke that California employed the doctrine of “unnatural, improbable consequences.” Nguyen made clear that the fact that a defendant had no subjective knowledge (let alone intent) that the perpetrator might commit the charged crime is irrelevant; the test is an objective one, and if a defendant should have foreseen the charged crime, she is liable. Critics have complained that this standard imports a civil negligence standard into criminal law.

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