I recently had someone come to see me about a family member who had been charged as a “principal” to first degree murder. He did not understand why his relative had been charged since the person had not actually participated in the murder. Under Louisiana statutory law, if a person directly or indirectly assists in the killing of another individual, they can be charged as a “principal” to the crime. Essentially, a principal is someone who aids and abets in the commission of a crime, or what might commonly be called an accomplice.
An example of “assisting” a murder would be the following situation: A fight breaks out in a bar and one man goes out to the car and gets a gun. He gives the gun to his friend and points out the guy who started the fight. The friend shoots the guy and kills him. The man who pulled the trigger would be charged with first or second degree murder, and the friend would be charged as a principal to murder because he gave the man the weapon and pointed out the victim.
Another example of a principal would be a woman who drives her boyfriend to the store to get gasoline, knowing that he intends to burn down his ex-wife’s house. If the ex- dies in the fire, the boyfriend will be charged with 1st or 2nd degree murder and the girlfriend would be charged as a principal to the primary charge.
What is important to know about this type of murder charge is that even though the person did not actually commit the crime, they may eventually receive the same sentence as the person who did commit the crime. Louisiana has a very strict interpretation of principal for certain crimes, including homicide and armed robbery. This is why a person charged as a principal will need to aggressively defend themselves against the charge. It is in your best interest to find a criminal defense attorney who has experience defending homicide crimes and other capital offenses. As a capital defender licensed and board-certified to handle death penalty cases for the State of Louisiana, my criminal defense law firm represents defendants charged with capital crimes such as first degree murder, second degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated rape.