mens rea

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Mens Rea

As an element of criminal responsibility, a guilty mind; a guilty or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent. Guilty knowledge and wilfulness.

A fundamental principle of Criminal Law is that a crime consists of both a mental and a physical element. Mens rea, a person's awareness of the fact that his or her conduct is criminal, is the mental element, and actus reus, the act itself, is the physical element.

The concept of mens rea developed in England during the latter part of the common-law era (about the year 1600) when judges began to hold that an act alone could not create criminal liability unless it was accompanied by a guilty state of mind. The degree of mens rea required for a particular common-law crime varied. Murder, for example, required a malicious state of mind, whereas Larceny required a felonious state of mind.

Today most crimes, including common-law crimes, are defined by statutes that usually contain a word or phrase indicating the mens rea requirement. A typical statute, for example, may require that a person act knowingly, purposely, or recklessly.

Sometimes a statute creates criminal liability for the commission or omission of a particular act without designating a mens rea. These are called Strict Liability statutes. If such a statute is construed to purposely omit criminal intent, a person who commits the crime may be guilty even though he or she had no knowledge that his or her act was criminal and had no thought of committing a crime. All that is required under such statutes is that the act itself is voluntary, since involuntary acts are not criminal.

Occasionally mens rea is used synonymously with the words general intent, although general intent is more commonly used to describe criminal liability when a defendant does not intend to bring about a particular result. Specific Intent, another term related to mens rea, describes a particular state of mind above and beyond what is generally required.

mens rea

(menz ray-ah) n. Latin for a guilty mind, or criminal intent in committing the act. (See: intent, crime)

mens rea

noun criminal design, criminal guilt, crimiial intent, criminal purpose, criminality, culpability, vice, wrong, wrongdoing

mens rea

‘guilty mind’, the term used to describe the mental element required to constitute a crime. Generally it requires that the accused meant or intended to do wrong or at least knew he was doing wrong. However, the precise mental element varies from crime to crime.
References in periodicals archive ?
Before Bozza, the Court issued seemingly diametrically opposite decisions in the early 1940s that address when providers of goods or services may share the users' guilty mind.
The problem with appellate rulings about intent is that, because of the standard of review, they do a poor job of clarifying whether any particular piece of evidence is conclusive proof of a guilty mind.
Moreover, the requirement of a guilty mind operates to restrict, rather than enlarge, the criminal law, by placing a high hurdle of proof before the prosecution.
To commit conspiracy, the conspirators must give voice to their intent by expressing their agreement with one another, and, in giving voice to their intent, they provide proof of their guilty minds.
And the injustice in question is constituted by a guilty mind, expressed
support is a guilty mind that (for all he knows or intends) will be
Some take overt acts to be indispensable evidence of a guilty mind.
For more on why the guilty mind must be carried out, see
Each of these articles, from different perspectives, illustrates the importance of understanding what a guilty mind is or should be, translating those insights into legally operational concepts, and improving the accuracy with which legal actors treat the ever-growing class of criminal cases that pivot on states of mind.
In the Stevens case, (100) the advice of counsel caused an unusually clean break in the chain of inference leading to a guilty mind.
Sometimes detection avoidance really does help identify a guilty mind, as in the case of a local police chief who altered reports and sought the means to dispose of a gun.
Taking cover prospectively, through conscious avoidance of guilty knowledge, also enacts a narrative consistent with a guilty mind.