Is mere presence at a crime scene itself a crime?

As every first year law student knows, mere presence at the scene of a crime is not sufficient to impose criminal liability on a defendant.  The actus reus requirement mandates that a person do something (or fail to comply with a duty imposed by law) or affirmatively aid and abet someone else in the commission of a crime.  

As we blogged about last week, new increased penalties have taken effect for Knowing Presence at an Animal Fight, N.Y. Agriculture and Markets Law § 355(5).  What was previously a violation is now a Class B misdemeanor.  It criminalizes: "[t]he knowing  presence  as  a  spectator  at  any  place  where  an  exhibition of animal fighting is being conducted."  It is, to my knowledge, the only crime on the books in New York that runs counter to the rule that mere presence is not a crime.  (The only other offense I can think of is Trespass, but even that statute requires an affirmative act of entering or remaining unlawfully.)

That is not to say that the statute is unconstitutional.  The "mere presence" rule comes from case law interpreting the actus reus and accomplice liability statutes.  The Legislature is free, I suppose, to make mere presence a crime under circumstances as it sees fit.  Here, punishing and, thus, deterring the audience to animal fighting is an important part of shutting down animal fighting rings.  Without an audience betting on and cheering on the fight, promoters of the fight will have little to gain.  (LC)

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