Legally speaking, a crime is a crime when the person who committed it did so with the intent to disobey the law. This is known as criminal intent. But what if the person mentally could not comprehend that he or she engaged in prohibited behavior? What if the individual did not do wrong intentionally?
Intentional or Unintentional?
If a person lacks the ability to perceive reality and unintentionally engages in illegal conduct, he or she may be considered innocent of wrongdoing. Someone who breaks the law unintentionally due to his or her mental state is to not supposed to be convicted of a crime. This is known as “mistake of fact.” However, if the intent to commit the crime is proven, regardless of if one possesses or does not possess moral guilt, also known as “mens rea,” then he or she still can be held responsible for his or her actions.
Understanding “Mens Rea”
Most crimes require what attorneys refer to as “mens rea,” which is Latin for a “guilty mind.” This simply means, what a defendant was thinking and intended during the criminal act is important to establish. The criminal justice system relies on “mens rea” to better understand if a person did or did not intentionally commit a crime.
“Mens rea” is not required for several crimes, however. There are laws, known as strict liability laws, that do not require a “guilty mind” to be present to be punished for committing certain crimes. Many strict liability laws involve minors, such as laws prohibiting “statutory rape” and the sale of alcohol to minors.
The concept of motive is an indirect way to determine if someone broke the law intentionally or unintentionally. Motive is the term used to explain why a person committed a crime. It isn’t the same as intent, which relates to whether an action was accidental or intentional. For example, if someone is charged with burglary for taking someone else’s wallet, the motive may be financial, because the person has a history of drug addiction and had been asking others for money to purchase a specific drug.
Contact the Law Office of Peter Blair
To better understand “mens rea” and how it may apply to your case, contact my office for a free consultation. If you committed a crime but lacked intent, I can fight for your rights. Your mental state at the time of the crime does matter!