Mens Rea

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Mens rea is a Latin term used in criminal law that refers to the mental state or intent that a person has when committing a crime.

It is an essential element of most criminal offenses and refers to the guilty mind or criminal intent of the defendant at the time of the offense.

Mens rea can be broken down into different levels of intent, ranging from intentionally committing a crime to knowingly committing a crime to recklessly or negligently committing a crime. Intentional mens rea, also known as specific intent, refers to a deliberate or purposeful act to commit a crime. Knowingly mens rea, also known as general intent, refers to an awareness of the actions being taken and the likelihood that they will result in a crime. Reckless or negligent mens rea, also known as criminal negligence, refers to disregarding the risks involved in certain actions.

To be convicted of a crime, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the requisite mens rea for the offense. However, some crimes, such as strict liability offenses, do not require a showing of mens rea and can be established based solely on the commission of the act.

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Last Modified: 03/10/2023


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