People often say that you are judged by the company you keep. When it comes to criminal law in Minnesota, that sentiment rings true.

Although the “natural and probable consequences doctrine” has been outlawed in many states, it still exists in Minnesota. It provides that a person assisting in a minor crime can be held responsible for a more serious crime committed by a person they were with if they should have known the original crime might escalate.

In a case that made its way to the United States Supreme Court, a man was accused under the “natural and probable consequences doctrine” of assisting in a shooting after a drug deal gone bad. While the man knew he was entering into a drug deal, he didn’t even know a gun was present at the scene. ¹

This law has been used in Minnesota for robberies that turned into murders and beyond. ² It has been criticized for many reasons, including that it violates a general rule that a person must have intent to be held responsible for a crime. But how related do the two crimes need to be? What about relatively minor crimes that escalate into serious ones? These are issues that courts continue to grapple with. The biggest issue with this rule is that it opens up many Minnesotans to the potential of serious responsibility every time they commit a minor crime with another person. Should a person that steals a soda at a gas station really be held responsible when their friend shoots the clerk?

So, what should you do if you are in a situation you suddenly realize might escalate into a serious crime? Well, the law does provide some relief here. If it can be proven that it was less dangerous to continue the act once a person has knowledge that it might escalate than to walk away, there is no responsibility for the more serious crime. In practice, that might mean if you realize a gun is present during a drug deal and it would be dangerous not to continue the drug deal, you can continue without being held responsible for the subsequent shooting. ¹ It is always good practice to consult with a criminal law attorney if you feel you might be charged under this law.

As noted above, this law seems unfair for several reasons. But until Minnesota does away with it, you might be in just as much trouble as the company you keep. If you are in need of an experienced defense attorney, don’t hesitate to contact Karalus Law today.


¹ Rosemond v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1240 (2014)

² Pierson v. State, 637 N.W.2d 571(Minn. 2002)