Criminal Law.  A criminal law doctrine, also referred to as “innocent agency,” which applies to impose liability to a defendant who causes a person to unknowingly perform a criminal act — in other words, when a defendant performs an act through the instrumentality of another.

Example: Derek asks Tom to give a drink to Victor that, unknown to Tom (but known to Derek) is poisoned. Derek is liable for murder under the innocent instrumentality doctrine if Victor dies from the poison.

Reference Desk:

Bailey v. Commonwealth, 229 Va. 258 (1985):

“[O]ne who effects a criminal act through an innocent or unwitting agent is a principal in the first degree . . . [T]he innocent-agent rule applies even though the person accused was not present at the time and place of the offense.”

People v. Pounds, 168 Cal.App.2d 756 (1959):

“When a person has caused a crime to be committed through the instrumentality of an innocent agent, such person is the principal.”

Robeen v. State, 144 Neb. 910 (1944):

“[W]here a person in one county procures the commission of a crime in another through the agency of an innocent person, he is a principal and subject to prosecution in the county where the acts were done by the agent, without reference to the whereabouts of the principal.”

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