Condoning the Crime: The Elusive Mens Rea for Complicity

44 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2014 Last revised: 22 Feb 2015

See all articles by Alex F. Sarch

Alex F. Sarch

University of Surrey School of Law

Date Written: January 25, 2015


There is a long history of disagreement about what the mens rea for complicity is. Some courts take it to be the intention that the underlying crime succeed, while others take mere knowledge of the underlying crime to be sufficient. Still others propose that the mens rea for complicity tracks the mens rea of the underlying crime — the so-called “derivative approach.” However, as argued herein, these familiar approaches face difficulties. Accordingly, we have reason to continue our search for the elusive mens rea for complicity. This paper develops a new account of the mens rea for complicity, drawing on an older approach informed by agency law principles. In particular, I argue that a distinct attitude of condoning the underlying crime is best seen as the mens rea for complicity. This approach yields a more principled framework for determining when accomplice liability is warranted than the existing approaches do. Moreover, it demonstrates that certain reforms to the current legal regime are warranted. Most importantly, the law should recognize that complicity comes in degrees. While reforms of this sort have been previously proposed for reasons relating to causation, this article shows that different levels of complicity must also be recognized on independent mens rea grounds.

Keywords: mens rea, complicity, aiding and abetting, intention, culpability

Suggested Citation

Sarch, Alex F., Condoning the Crime: The Elusive Mens Rea for Complicity (January 25, 2015). Forthcoming in Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Available at SSRN: or

Alex F. Sarch (Contact Author)

University of Surrey School of Law ( email )

United Kingdom


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