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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

mens rea

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

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

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.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
References in periodicals archive ?
This is perhaps clearest where the prosecution must prove a mens rea of knowledge.
(43) A crime has historically been understood to require the combination of both the act itself, or actus reus, and awareness that the act was wrong, or mens rea. Edward Coke's seventeenth century Institutes of the Laws of England stated that "actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea" (44)--an act itself is not culpable unless it is done with a guilty mind.
Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Criminal Division, warned when testifying alongside Meese at the January hearing that pending default mens rea legislation would cause "extreme and very harmful disruptions" in "essential federal criminal law enforcement operations." The legislation would "create massive uncertainty in the law" and allow defendants charged with serious crimes "to embroil federal courts in extensive litigation and potentially escape liability for egregious and very harmful conduct."
This Chamber considers that any knowing and wilful conduct in violation of a Chamber's order meets the requisite mens rea for contempt and is committed with the requisite intent to interfere with the administration of justice."
Yet despite courts' failure to formally endorse a coherent standard for attributing mens rea to an organization, this Article demonstrates that the situation is less indeterminate than has been previously acknowledged.
There is also the question of mens rea. As we shall see, Guido maintains that any guilty intent or guilt he may have had has been erased by Boniface, even if in advance of the act.
Certainly, mens rea is an important concept in criminal law, (7) and, legal scholars have devoted countless pages to examining the proper role of mens rea in assessing culpability and crafting criminal statutes.
Where defendant was convicted of aiding another person to unlawfully obtain documents from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the jury verdict is set aside because the crime has an implied mens rea element that was not reflected in the jury instructions.
Is this why the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, to sentence people who lack mens rea to death?