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A Bit of Information on the Mens Rea Defense When You Are Accused of a Crime

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Due to all the complications involving criminal law, it is always best to hire a criminal attorney experienced in the type of crime you are being accused of. Mens rea is the Latin term for guilty mind, often referred to as intent. It is one of the things a prosecutor must prove for you to be found guilty of most crimes. There are some crimes where mens rea is not necessary, and there are different levels of intent. Here is a bit of information on when mens rea does not apply, and the different levels of intent the prosecutor must prove.

Strict Liability Crimes

Strict liability crimes are those that do not require the defendant had actually intended to commit the crime, it just happened. Traffic violations fall under this category. As an example, you may not have even realized how fast you were going, but will still be found guilty of speeding. Statutory rape is another crime that is a strict liability crime in most states. However, for this crime, many states will reduce the felony to a misdemeanor if the people involved are close in age.

Reckless Disregard

Reckless disregard is something the prosecutor will use if your defense is the lack of intent. This occurs when a defendant does not care what happens as a result of his or her actions. Vehicular manslaughter often falls under this category. If you were driving under the influence, or in a manner not safe, you were exhibiting reckless disregard. You did not intend to kill anyone, but also did not take the consequences of your actions into consideration.


When you did not sit down and plan a crime, but committed it on the spur of the moment, knowing it was a crime, it is an intentional act. Theft is a good example of an intentional crime. You may not have thought or planned to steal something when you walked into the store, but when you saw the open, unattended cash register you took the money.

Malice Aforethought

These crimes are planned, or premeditated. If you think about, write about, plan, or discuss committing the crime before doing it, the prosecutor will claim malice aforethought. It is the most serious type of crime and carries the most serious punishment. Browsing through the Internet looking for poisons, or how to electrocute someone may be enough to convict you of a premeditated crime.

Mens rea can be a good defense if you actually had no intention of committing the crime but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the burden of proof always lies with the prosecutor, if there is enough evidence to show that you did commit the crime, it is not too hard to prove you had some type of intent. When there is not enough evidence against you, mens rea may be the defense that gets you acquitted. For more information, talk to a professional like Sicotte & Henry.