Pinkerton Rule | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

The Pinkerton Rule is a legal doctrine in the US stating that a member of a conspiracy can be held liable for crimes committed by other conspirators.

In the realm of criminal justice, understanding different legal principles is important. One such principle is the Pinkerton Rule, which applies to criminal conspiracy cases. This rule holds that once a person becomes part of a conspiracy, they can be held accountable for the crimes committed by other members of the conspiracy, whether they directly participated in those crimes or not.

Origin of the Pinkerton Rule

The Pinkerton Rule takes its name from the 1946 Supreme Court case, Pinkerton v. United States. The Pinkerton brothers, Walter and Daniel, were charged with various crimes linked to an illegal whisky distillery. Even though Walter was in jail when some of the crimes occurred, the Court held that he was liable because the crimes were committed in furtherance of the conspiracy and were foreseeable as a necessary or natural consequence of the conspiracy.

Implications of the Pinkerton Rule in Criminal Justice

In practical terms, the Pinkerton Rule means that if you join a conspiracy, you can be held responsible for the actions of the other members. For example, if you join a group planning to rob a bank, and someone is harmed during the robbery, you could be charged with that harm, even if you weren’t the one who caused it.

This rule is important in criminal justice because it helps to ensure that all members of a criminal conspiracy are held accountable for their collective actions. After all, if a person joins a criminal conspiracy, they’re agreeing to participate in illegal activities, which often result in harm to others.

Criticisms and Limitations of the Pinkerton Rule

While the Pinkerton Rule has played a significant role in prosecuting conspiracies, it’s not without its critics. Some argue that it’s unfair to hold someone responsible for crimes they didn’t personally commit or even know about. However, others contend that it’s an important tool for deterring and punishing organized crime.

The Pinkerton Rule also has its limits. For instance, a conspirator can’t be held liable for crimes committed before they joined the conspiracy or after they left it. Additionally, the rule doesn’t apply if the crime was not a foreseeable result of the conspiracy.

Conclusion: Understanding the Pinkerton Rule

In summary, the Pinkerton Rule is a crucial principle in criminal law that enables the prosecution of all members of a conspiracy for the actions of their fellow conspirators. By understanding this rule, we get a clearer picture of how criminal liability works within a group setting.

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Last Modified: 07/25/2023

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