Distinguish between the terms actus reus and mens rea. How are they significant in criminal law? To what standard of law must the defendant’s mens rea be proven in order to gain a criminal conviction? Must the state prove “what the defendant was thinking at the time of the crime” in order to prove mens rea? Why or why not? To what standard of law must each element of the actus reus be proven, and why?
The terms ‘actus reus’ and ‘mens rea’ derive from Latin and means that an act is does not make a man guilty of a crime, unless his mind is legally blameworthy. The actus reus (Guilty act) of an offence comprises all of the elements of a crime which do not consist of the mens rea. It is the external factor. It is also described as the conduct element of the offence and may include the circumstances in which the offence was committed, and/or the consequences of what was done. When you look at an offence, you will see that it has specified elements, either provided by common law or statutory definition, which will make up the actus reus. It is not simply an act it can also comprise an omission in certain circumstances.
Determining a person’s “mens rea” is a difficult task to do when trying to convict them. Our reading material describes that the person can only be found guilty if the offender has the culpable mental state. “In order for a person to be found guilty of a crime, the offender must have the culpable mental state required by the statute.” (Wright, 2013) In the end, it depends on what law was broken and to what extent. If someone was caught stealing, then they have broken that states statute and will be charged accordingly due to the fact that the action was done plus crime committed. As for other crimes, such as murder, the state must prove what the offender was thinking at the time of the crime. Determine if the murder was intentional, a mistake, or negligence of some sort.
One requirement of criminal act is that the defendant performs it voluntarily. In other words, the defendant must control the act. It would not serve the policy of specific deterrence to punish the defendant for irrepressible acts. The Model Penal Code gives the following examples of acts that
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