mens rea

/menz" ree"euh/, Law.
a criminal intent.
[1860-65; < NL mens rea]

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      in Anglo-American law, criminal intent or evil mind. In general, the definition of a criminal offense involves not only an act or omission and its consequences but also the accompanying mental state of the actor. All criminal systems require an element of criminal intent for most crimes. Only Anglo-American systems, however, employ the term mens rea. Countries such as France and Japan simply specify that there must be a criminal intent unless a specific statute directs otherwise.

      Despite the evident importance of proper definition of the mental element, criminal statutes are frequently silent on what sort of mens rea, if any, must be shown. In other instances, a wide variety of terms are employed without any clear indication of how they are to be interpreted. The tentative draft of the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code reduces the mens rea terms to four: the criminal must act “purposely,” meaning that he must have an actual, consciously formed intent to achieve the criminal consequence; “knowingly,” meaning a conscious awareness that his conduct will produce the consequence; “recklessly,” meaning conscious disregard of the fact that his conduct is creating an unreasonable peril; and “negligently,” meaning inadvertence to peril that would have been apparent to a reasonable man.

      In modern times a considerable body of penal offenses have been created in all countries in which no intent or other mental state need be shown. Absence of mens rea has always characterized a few offenses such as statutory rape, in which knowledge that the girl is below the age of consent is not necessary for liability, and bigamy, which often may be committed even though the parties believe in complete good faith that they are free to marry. Mens rea need not be shown in a number of statutes regulating economic or other activities, commonly termed public-welfare offenses, carrying minor penalties.

      The justification for the elimination of proof of criminal intent in such cases is ordinarily made on the grounds of expediency. It is asserted that to require proof of intent or even recklessness would render some of these regulatory statutes largely ineffective or unenforceable. Laws regulating tobacco, alcohol, dangerous drugs, automobile traffic, and firearms would be useless if anyone who violated them could plead ignorance of the law. Australia, however, now allows a defendant to defeat a charge against him by a showing that he was not negligent in failing to observe the law. Supporters of this position argue that little is sacrificed in the way of effectiveness.

      Another consideration in dispensing with a mens rea requirement is ignorance or mistake. It is commonly said that ignorance of fact excuses from liability, whereas ignorance of law does not. Although this simple formula holds true in wide areas of the criminal law, there are important exceptions, especially in the area of absolute liability offenses. In such cases mistake of law is increasingly being allowed as a defense, especially under statutes that impose harsh penalties.

      Finally, all criminal systems make provision for certain types of diminished responsibility such as intoxication, infancy, or insanity. All countries specify a particular age at which a youth may be held responsible for the consequences of his acts. Intoxication is commonly held not to be a defense to a crime except insofar as it negates the existence of a particular mental state. Thus, in Anglo-American law one who commits murder while intoxicated is convicted of manslaughter rather than murder if it is found that he was incapable of entertaining the “malice aforethought” requisite to a finding of murder. See also diminished responsibility.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • mens rea — / menz rē ə, rā / n pl men·tes re·ae / men ˌtēz rē ˌē, men ˌtās rā ˌī/ [New Latin, literally, guilty mind]: a culpable mental state; esp: one involving intent or knowledge and forming an element of a criminal offense murder contains a mens rea… …   Law dictionary

  • Mens rea — es un término latino (que se puede traducir como mente culpable ) utilizado en el derecho penal. La prueba estandar en el derecho anglosajón para determinar la responsabilidad criminal se suele expresar con la frase latina, actus non facit reum… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Mens rea — est le terme latin signifiant l esprit criminel (ou l intention de commettre une infraction criminelle). L intention d un individu est un élément essentiel d un crime dans les juridictions de common law. Le test de la responsabilité criminelle d… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mens rea — ist der lateinische Terminus für den im Strafrecht gebräuchlichen Begriff subjektiver Tatbestand. Er setzt sich zusammen aus den Lateinischen Wörtern mens, zu übersetzen mit Bewusstsein, Geist, Verstand sowie reus, das mit Angeklagter übersetzt… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • mens rea — Latin phrase meaning guilty mind …   Etymology dictionary

  • Mens rea — Criminal law Part of …   Wikipedia

  • mens rea — noun Etymology: New Latin, literally, guilty mind Date: 1861 criminal intent …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • mens rea — noun a guilty mind, a conscious knowing by the perpetrator that the act s/he committed was illicit …   Wiktionary

  • MENS REA — Латинский термин, буквально переводимый как намерение причинить вред. Юридический термин, используемый в судебной психологии и психиатрии в случаях, когда психическое заболевание возникает как защита, и вопросы преднамеренности и побуждений важны …   Толковый словарь по психологии

  • mens rea — mental element of a crime, criminal thought …   English contemporary dictionary

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