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Some kind of crime, like maybe those around receiving or possessing things it is illegal to have, might be able to be "committed" by someone without them actually doing anything.

If Ash steals something, and then mails it to Brett with a letter explaining how it is stolen, Brett might be guilty of receiving stolen property because of Ash's actions (or might need to also intend to keep the property, depending on jurisdiction).

What crimes have this structure?

Are there any crimes where one person can cause another to commit them without committing any crimes themselves?

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    It seems unlikely that Brett commits the offence of receiving stolen property the instant he receives stolen property and reads the communication saying that it is stolen. Surely an essential element of the offence is the receiver's intent to deprive the owner.
    – Lag
    Oct 6, 2023 at 14:09

4 Answers 4

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There is no criminal offence that one can cause another to commit because every criminal offence has a mens rea element (R. v. Sault Ste. Marie, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 1299: "[w]here the offence is criminal, the Crown must establish a mental element, namely, that the accused who committed the prohibited act did so intentionally or recklessly, with knowledge of the facts constituting the offence, or with wilful blindness toward them"; see also R. v. Creighton, [1993] 3 SCR 3, which recognizes that negligence-like fault elements are also sufficient).1

This requires some degree of moral blameworthiness, whether that be a subjective intention or knowledge, or an objective negligence-like wrong.

As for the example of "receiving stolen property," that is not an offence.

If there were a criminal offence such that a person could cause another to commit it, it would be a violation of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: it would be a deprivation of liberty in a manner inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice. It is a principle of fundamental justice that only the morally blameworthy be convicted of a criminal offence.

One can counsel someone to commit a crime. But the person counselled is only guilty when they themselves do all the elements of the crime with the required mens rea. The person doing the counselling also is guilty of the ultimate offence.


1. The comment below discussing strict liability is not relevant for criminal offences in Canada. If an offence is a criminal offence, it requires mens rea. Strict and absolute liability are not compatible with criminal law in Canada.

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    not all crimes have a mens rea: strict liability exists. The classic example is statutory rape or environmental law violations - there is no requirement of guilty mind - you either commit it or not, no requirement to prove any state of mind. Either your car/factory/sewage tank is violating the emission laws or it is not.
    – Trish
    Oct 6, 2023 at 16:22
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Not in the US. For example, in Washington, there is a law against receiving stolen goods which is defined in terms of knowingly receiving. If you are in possession of stolen good, e.g. as described in the OP, the prosecution then has to prove that you knew that the goods were stolen (see the jury instructions, and associated cases law – State v. Plank, 46 Wn.App. 728, 731 P.2d 1170 (1987); State v. Summers, 45 Wn.App. 761, 728 P.2d 613 (1986); State v. Jennings, 35 Wn.App. 216, 666 P.2d 381 (1983)).

The accompanying letter defeats the "I didn't know" defense, then the defendant would have to mount a credible defense that he didn't see the letter. Even without a letter, if the package is 10 beverage crates, by law you must assume that the goods are stolen and refuse the shipment, or some similar response. If a stranger anonymously drops off stolen goods on your property, you can absolve yourself of criminal liability by turning it in to the police.

There are strict liability crimes where certain acts are illegal even is you do not know that a certain defining characteristic is true, for example stautory rape, selling alcohol to a minor or traffic offenses, but they all are based on an actual action by the defendant.

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Your example seems a bit contrieved. There are real world cases where it is easy to "make" someone commit a crime without being a criminal: inheritance.

Lets say a family member dies. You are the only heir. You inherit their house. After some time you wonder what to do with the house, but the first step to do anything is to clean it up. When you get into the basement, in the back of an old cabinet you find a wooden box and upon opening it, you find a nicely polished rifle. You know your family member had a permit long ago, you never knew they actually owned a rifle. You don't have a permit. Now you are in possession of an illegal firearm.

Normally, there are laws in effect ( Gem. § 20 Absatz 1 WaffG) that set deadlines to either get a permit or get rid of the gun inside a specific timeframe after the inheritance. That also means it is on you to know, what you actually did inherit, because those laws start with the inheritance, not with you deciding to clean the house and finding it.

I don't think there can be a generic advice what to do in this case, other than contact a lawyer immediately. People have tried to take inherited weapons to the police. You can maybe imagine that carrying an improperly secured weapon into the public without a permit is a much worse offence that having found one in a private basement. So whatever it is you inherited, you need to make sure you know what it is, and if you should not be in possession legally, call a laywer immediately, since there is no general rule. Every case will be specific to you, the goods in your possession, the laws in your juristiction and maybe even your late relative.

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Are there any crimes where one person can cause another to commit them without committing any crimes themselves?

No. Conspiracy to commit a crime is a crime, therefore it is not possible to cause another person to commit a crime without committing one yourself.

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