The Four Types of Mens Rea
Under common law, a person cannot be truly guilty of a crime unless he or she consciously commits a dangerous or illegal act. The intent to commit a crime is officially known as “mens rea,” which is Latin for “guilty mind.” In the US, mens rea is generally divided into four sublevels, each of which reflects a different level of responsibility for a crime.
If you or a loved one has been accused of any criminal offense, you need a clear understanding of the relevant laws so you can decide what steps to take next. To schedule a free initial consultation with a knowledgeable Champaign criminal defense lawyer, call the offices of Bruno Law Offices at (217) 328-6000.
Levels of Culpability
Most criminal cases involve one of the following kinds of mens rea:
- Intent: This is the explicit and conscious desire to commit a dangerous or illegal act. For example, if a person targets and assaults someone with the goal of inflicting harm on the victim, he is displaying criminal intent.
- Knowledge: This term applies if a person is aware that his or her actions will have certain results, but does not seem to care. For example, if a person violently lashes out at someone, inflicting harm may not be her primary goal. However, if she was aware that harm would be a predictable result of her actions, then she is guilty of having criminal knowledge.
- Recklessness: Recklessness is the decision to commit a certain action despite knowing about associated risks. For example, if a person causes injury while driving drunk, he can be found guilty of recklessly causing harm. He did not intend to hurt anyone, and did not expect it to happen, but he knew he was taking the risk of hurting someone by driving while inebriated.
- Negligence: This is the mildest form of criminal culpability. A person commits negligence when she fails to meet a reasonable standard of behavior for her circumstances. For example, if a child is injured because his or her caretaker failed to perform her duties, she may be guilty of criminal negligence.
As you can see, mens rea involves many complexities and subtle distinctions. If you are defending yourself from criminal accusations, you need a Champaign defense attorney who fully understands the complexities of your case.