Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2007


Pinkerton v. United States, Pinkerton paradox, Group will, Collective intentions, Vicarious liability, Collective culpability, Group agency, Conspiracy


Criminal Law


Although vicarious liability for the acts of co-conspirators is firmly entrenched in federal courts, no adequate theory explains how the act and intention of one conspirator can be attributed to another, simply by virtue of their criminal agreement. This Article argues that the most promising avenue for solving the Pinkerton paradox is an appeal to the collective intention of the conspiratorial group to commit the crime. Unfortunately, misplaced skepticism about the notion of a "group will" has prevented criminal scholars from embracing the notion of a conspiracy's collective intention to commit a crime. However, positing group intentions requires only that the criminal law recognize the rational relationships between individuals who decide to collectivize reason to pursue a common criminal goal; no burdensome theory of corporate animals with unified minds is required. After exploring the different rational structures that a conspiracy can have, the Article outlines the circumstances when vicarious liability could be justified. Specifically, liability must be limited to participants in tightly knit conspiracies who engage in the kind of common deliberation that is capable of yielding collective intentions. A further consequence of this theory is that liability must be restricted to acts that fall within the scope of the criminal plan, not just acts that should have been reasonably foreseeable to members of the conspiracy.

Publication Citation

Published in: Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, vol. 98, no. 1 (Fall 2007).

Included in

Criminal Law Commons