Criminal liability for aiding and abetting constitutes an ancient doctrine of criminal law. Commentators describing English law at the beginning of the fourteenth century recognized that "the law of homicide is quite wide enough to comprise . . . those who have 'procured, counseled, commanded or abetted' the felony.. .for it is colloquially said that he sufficiently kills who advises." In 1909, Congress enacted a general aiding and abetting statute applicable to all federal criminal offenses.
Civil liability for aiding and abetting, however, represents a very underdeveloped theory within common law tort. Courts have stated, seemingly in jest, that precedents in this area of law are "largely confined to isolated acts of adolescents in rural society." Notwithstanding the banter, there is recognition that "the implications of tort law in this area as a supplement to the criminal justice process and possibly as a deterrent to criminal activity cannot be casually dismissed.' With continued development, the theory of civil aiding and abetting presents the availability of an improved law of torts, better able to provide justice for private victims of crime and tort.
Recent cases illustrate the ability of the civil theory of aiding and abetting to reach conduct that likely would not be privately actionable otherwise. Two such cases are Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc. and Boim v. Quranic Literacy Institute. In Rice, the Fourth Circuit held that the First Amendment does not pose a bar to civil liability for aiding and abetting criminal conduct, specifically murder for hire.' James Perry, a neophyte hit man, brutally murdered Mildred Horn, her eight-year-old quadriplegic on Trevor, and Trevor's nurse, Janice Saunders. Perry shot Mildred Horn and Saunders through the eyes at close range and strangled Trevor Horn. Perry did not know his victims, for Perry acted as a contract killer, or "hit man," hired by Mildred Horn's ex-husband, Lawrence Horn. Lawrence Horn's motive for contracting the murder of his family was that he would receive the $2 million that his young son had received in settlement for the injuries that rendered him quadriplegic for life.
Nathan I. Combs,
Civil Aiding and Abetting Liability,
58 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol58/iss1/4