Mens Rea

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Mens Rea is Latin for the guilty mind of committing a crime, you have a particular state of mind when you act in an obvious way. The mens rea or state of mind of guilt required before a person can be convicted of a crime is specified in the definition of each crime. And where mens rea is not required, the offense is a strict liability offense. You must act with a guilty mind at the exact moment of the crime. So if you have resolved of murdering somebody but on your way you were not paying any attention, and you hit him with your car, it is not murder because even if you had a bad action with guilty mind, you did not have a guilty mind when you did the wrong thing and was thinking about something else.

The three states of mind which either independently or together, can make the mens rea for a criminal offense are:

  • intention,
  • recklessness and
  • negligence

Therefore, you can say that killing someone is not a crime, but killing someone intentionally or recklessly is a crime. Criminal fault is elementary in order to ensure that conviction and punishment are deserved. It acts as a mechanism that filters for criminal laws in order to ensure that only the culprits are punished. Criminal fault constitute of two kinds:- objective fault and subjective fault.

Professor Wilson in the Criminal Law Subject Guide gives an example of his son playing football too close to his house and ultimately smashing a window. He says he will be induced of reporting him even if the breakage was not intentional and he was ignorant to the likelihood of causing damage. He says I’ll tell him he’s at fault because he failed to meet the Wilson family’s standard of care. These standards are objective not varying with the context and not taking into account the intentions or beliefs of the perpetrator. Recklessness or the negligence are two inaccurate terms that represents an objective fault and are the characteristics of a person who does not conform to the standards of ordinary reasonable people. Reckless driving, dangerous driving, and manslaughter by gross negligence are some of examples of crimes of objective fault. And subjective fault crimes are traditional basic crimes, with the exception of rape and manslaughter by gross negligence. Most of these crimes carry substantial prison sentences as maximum sentences.

Citizens are safeguarded from unfair punishment by a general requirement only when they accomplish their wrongdoing. They have a mental attitude or a mental element that goes with them. It is this mental element making them guilty of crime and hence, punishable.

An intention and recklessness are two types of subjective fault mens rea. Many times, the definition of the criminal offense makes it clear which of these three mental states is relevant but sometimes the decisions of Court more specifically explain the requirements of the definition.