If You Have Been Charged with a Crime, Do You Know What Mens Rea Means?

What is Mens Rea? 

Mens Rea is the mental element of an individual’s intent to commit a crime.  It can also be expressed as the knowledge that a particular act would result in a crime being committed.

Why is Mens Rea significant if I have been accused of a crime?

Under common law, whether someone was innocent or guilty hinged upon whether or not they committed a particular illegal act (Actus Reus) in addition to whether or not they intended to commit the crime (Mens Rea). 

The above seems to make great logical sense, as it would certainly not benefit society to punish someone for an act that they did not commit.  It additionally does not make sense to punish someone for an act they did not intend to commit, in most cases.  A good example of such a situation might be where someone unintentionally walks on an unfenced area of a property as they travel on foot.  Although they may have inadvertently stepped upon someone else’s property and (arguably) trespassed which is a crime, would anyone benefit from punishing them for the trespass?  Probably not, in most cases.  If society made it that easy to commit a crime, we would surely have a lot of crimes to punish without the punishment benefitting society, as it would not likely have a deterrent effect on future crimes.  It would also allow people to be lazy about fencing their properties and posting signs to alert potential trespassers.

What Crimes Do Not Require Mens Rea?

There are certain types of crimes that do not require the intent that Men Rea refers to.  These are crimes where society has placed a responsibility upon its members requiring individuals to avoid certain activities wherein punishment lies in an act not requiring the intent to violate the law.  Examples of such violations are statutory rape, selling alcohol to minors, keeping dangerous wild animals, and parking violations.  Where illegal acts are relatively minor and Mens Rea is difficult to prove, a statute may do away with the necessity of proof of inten or Mens Rea, such as a citation for illegal parking.  It would prove difficult if not impossible to prove intent and society has decided that it is more efficient to punish one for the act of illegal parking without a consideration of intent.

Have You Been Accused of a Crime or have you been questioned by the police? 

If you have been accused of crime or are questioned by the police, it is critical that you speak with an experienced criminal attorney before you make any statements to the police.  The author recognizes that in his practice, Defendants have made comments or statements to the police that could impair the attorney’s ability to get the best possible outcome for the Defendant.  Call the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, and speak to an experienced criminal attorney to understand your rights.  Call (904) 990-8000 for a free initial consultation today.

About the author

Neil Weinreb is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing in the area of criminal law for over 17 years in North Florida.  Mr. Weinreb works for the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida.  Mr. Weinreb has worked as an adjunct professor teaching law to paralegal students at Jones College in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can contact Mr. Weinreb at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation.  Mr. Weinreb has received the highest rating from Martindale Hubbell, AV Preeminent 2021.


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