Accomplices: A Theory of Joint Intention

58 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017 Last revised: 12 Jun 2018

Nicholas Almendares

Seton Hall Law School

Dimitri Landa

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Date Written: February 14, 2017


An accomplice is held criminally liable for the acts of another. Yet, the circumstances under which this liability should apply remain unclear owing to an inconsistent and under-articulated set of doctrines, some departing dramatically from foundational commitments of criminal law. We propose a framework that grounds this area of law in a considered account of joint intention, which preserves the central roles of both mens rea and individual intention in the assignment of criminal liability. This approach provides a resolution to long-standing confusions about the meaning and consequentialness of actions taken by an accomplice and offers a unified, coherent doctrine to replace the series of disparate and ad hoc conclusions in the case law. A key novel concept in our approach is standing in reserve, which extends the coverage of a joint intention beyond the immediate participants in the actus reus that helps define a crime. The concepts of standing in reserve and joint intention supply a systematic way of addressing challenging cases such as felony murder, organized crime, state-sponsored violence, and terrorist sleeper cells.

Keywords: mens rea, intention, criminal law, conspiracy, accomplice liability, complicity

Suggested Citation

Almendares, Nicholas and Landa, Dimitri, Accomplices: A Theory of Joint Intention (February 14, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Nicholas Almendares (Contact Author)

Seton Hall Law School ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

Dimitri Landa

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

715 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
United States

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