Paralegal Essentials (Criminal Law – Criminal Liability)

Whether a crime is a felony or a misdemeanor, the state must still establish criminal liability in order to convict a defendant of a crime.  Criminal liability is composed of 2 elements:

  • Actus reus (the guilty act)
  • Mens rea (the guilty mind)

Being able to establish one without the other will result in an acquittal or dismissal of charges.  Both elements must occurr at the same time.  The specific state of mind is pivotal to certain crimes.  A different state of mind coupled with the same bad act can result in a totally different crime.

For example, consider the criminal act of a killing of a human being.  If the mens rea was intentional, with forethought, the crime may be murder.  If the mens rea (mental state) was heat of passion or carelessness, the crime could be manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

The lack of the requisite mens rea (guilty mind) is a defense to criminal liability.   For example if a person is intoxicated or insane, that may result in the jury finding a lack of the required mental state.  No mens rea means that no criminal liability can be established.

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