Accomplice Mens Rea

Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

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The criminal intent element required for accomplice liability varies, depending on the jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, the accomplice must act with specific intent or purposely when aiding or assisting the principal.  purposely means the accomplice desires the principal to commit the crime. The Model Penal Code follows this approach and requires the accomplice to act “with the purpose of promoting or facilitating the commission of the offense.” In a minority of jurisdictions, only general intent or acting knowingly that the crime will be promoted or facilitated is required.

Accomplice liability should be imputed only to blameworthy, deserving defendants.  Those who inadvertently assist a principal in the commision of an offense are not culpable.  However, in some states, if the crime the defendant intentionally furthers is related to the crime the principal actually commits, the defendant is deemed an accomplice. As with legal causation, foreseeability is the standard. Under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, if the defendant assists the principal with the intent to further a specific crime’s commission, and the principal commits a different crime that is foreseeable at the time of the defendant’s assistance, the defendant could be liable as an accomplice.  The Model Penal Code rejects this natural and probable doctrine, as do most commentators. The commentary to the Code labels the position “incongruous and unjust.”

Modification History

File Created:  07/12/2018

Last Modified:  07/12/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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