The Hand of One is the Hand of All, Murder, and Mutual Combat
Can a person be convicted of murder under the theory of “the hand of one is the hand of all?”
In State v. Young, decided February 5, 2020, the SC Supreme Court held that mutual combat, a theory that is usually argued by the prosecution to negate self-defense, can also result in criminal liability for murder under “the hand of one is the hand of all” theory of accomplice liability.
What the heck does that mean?
Young Jr and Young Sr were in a gunfight with Robinson that spanned several neighborhoods, shooting at each other before retreating and then doing it again. Eventually, the fight ended when Young Jr shot Robinson’s car full of holes on a residential street and Robinson fired back at the Youngs’ retreating car – missing and instead killing an eight-year child who was jumping on a nearby trampoline.
Robinson was convicted of murder for the child’s death – if you intend to kill someone but miss and kill someone else instead, you can still be found guilty of murder under the “doctrine of transferred intent.”
Young Jr, the defendant in this appeal, did not fire the shot that killed the child, but he also was convicted of murder under a different theory – because he was engaged in “mutual combat,” the SC Supreme Court found that he also could be found guilty of murder as an accomplice, or under the theory of “the hand of one is the hand of all.”
What Does “The Hand of One is the Hand of All” Mean in SC?
“The hand of one is the hand of all” is a phrase that is often misunderstood by police and defendants.
I’ve seen cases where police officers have charged a suspect and told them that they would be found guilty because the hand of one is the hand of all means, “if you were there, you’re guilty.” That is not what it means.
The hand of one is the hand of all is another way of saying “accomplice liability.” If you were there and you participated in the crime, you might be guilty even though someone else pulled the trigger or another person committed the burglary. For example, if you were the lookout while another person breaks into a home, or if you participated in a fight where someone was killed.
An accomplice is usually someone who was present when the crime was committed. An accessory before or after the fact is usually someone who participated or assisted in the crime although they were not present when the crime was committed.
Mere Presence is Not Evidence of a Crime
A related concept to the hand of one is the hand of all is mere presence – if you were merely present at the scene of a crime but did nothing to participate in the crime, you cannot be found guilty of the crime.
Your friend goes off the rails and stabs a rude McDonald’s cashier? Unless you helped him in some way, you are not guilty – that’s mere presence, not the hand of one is the hand of all.
What does mutual combat have to do with it?
What’s the Difference Between Mutual Combat and the Hand of One is the Hand of All?
The SC Supreme Court is saying that mutual combat is the hand of one is the hand of all, or at least it is an example of the hand of one is the hand of all:
Today, we hold mutual combat can properly serve as the basis for a murder charge for the death of a non-combatant under the “hand of one is the hand of all” theory of accomplice liability. When two or more individuals engage in combat via a reckless shootout, they collectively trigger an escalating chain reaction that creates a high risk to any human life falling within the field of fire. In that type of gunfight, all individuals are willing to use lethal force and display a depraved indifference to human life. More importantly, an innocent bystander would not be shot but for the willingness of all combatants to turn an otherwise peaceful environment, often a residential or commercial setting, into a battlefield. In a real sense, each combatant aids and encourages all of the other combatants—whether friend or foe—to create the lethal crossfire.
The Court is saying that, if you are engaged in mutual combat – both sides agree to the fight and neither side withdraws before the fatal blow is struck or the fatal shot is fired, then you are acting as an accomplice with every other person involved in the fight whether they are “on your side” or not…
If you are engaged in mutual combat, self-defense is not a defense.
If someone on the other side of the conflict is killed, you may be found guilty of murder.
If someone on your side of the conflict is killed (for example, if Robinson’s bullet had struck Young Sr instead of the child), you may be found guilty of murder.
If you are engaged in mutual combat and a bystander is killed – regardless of who fired the shot, you may be found guilty of murder.
SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC
Grant B. Smaldone is a SC criminal defense lawyer based in Charleston, SC. If you have been charged with a crime in the Charleston, SC area, call Charleston criminal defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send an email to set up a free initial consultation today.