Legal Eagle : How to withdraw from gang violence

September 18, 2017
Security forces on the ground in Mount Salem in Montego Bay, St James.

Most crimes may be committed by one person but on many occasions, two or more persons act together with a common criminal purpose to commit a crime, thus making each person responsible. This is called a joint enterprise, which is also widely used by the criminal gangs.

However, those who plan with others an attack to injure someone, may withdraw from the joint planned attack, even at the scene of the crime. For instance, gang members from the rustic district of Nonsuch planned an attack on John, who lives in the neighbouring district of Sherwood Forest. The plan was to attack John while he was walking home from work. On the day in question, as John came close to the gang of five, three of the gang members approached him, but Peter and James remained where they were standing. And before any of the three delivered the first blow, James and Peter shouted to the other three gang members and said, "Leave John alone, we are not in this anymore."

James and Peter both walked away from the scene of the crime. Three minutes later, the other three attacked John and gave him a hiding.

From the beating, John was seriously injured. He reported the matter to the police. All five men in the gang of five were arrested and charged. At trial, James and Peter pleaded not guilty.


Orchestrated plan


In their sworn evidence to the court, both James and Peter made admissions that they were part of a carefully orchestrated plan to lay wait John at a lonely spot near to his home while he was coming from work on the last Friday in the month. The plan also included hitting John to the extent that he would be seriously injured. They gave evidence that they decided to withdraw from the plan.

The law makes provisions for persons like James and Peter, who have been part of a plan to commit a crime, to withdraw from the said plan, but it must be done before the crime is committed and it must be very clear that James and Peter backed out of the plan. Thus, words spoken by James and Peter are important, along with the action taken to walk away from the scene of the crime before the assault by the three other gang members.

Had James and Peter waited until the first blow was delivered to John, it would have been too late and the crime against John would have already been committed.

In court, the judge must determine whether or not the words and action of James and Peter were sufficient to make it clear that they had backed out of the plan to cause serious injuries to John. It must not be just a change of mind, but the conduct of anyone who withdraws from a joint enterprise must be such that it is clear that he disengages from the criminal enterprise.

It is important that gang members, or anyone who plan with others to commit a crime, be aware that he can withdraw at any time before the commission of the crime by simply advising the other gang members of the withdrawal and also advise law-enforcement officers, if necessary.

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