Determining Culpability


Fundamentals of Criminal Law

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.

Jack Brown, Ph.D.


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Criminal intent is almost never proven in court by direct evidence. This is primarily because testimonial evidence, such as a confession, is the only direct evidence of a suspect’s mental state. The mental element of crimes is usually proved by circumstantial evidence. Fortunately, the old expression “actions speak louder than words” holds some truth. That is, by observing what a suspect does, it is possible to infer what they intend.

For example, in Easter v. State (306 Ark. 615, 1991), the court said that the “jury could reasonably have inferred defendant purposely killed his victim, based on the type of weapon used, the manner of its use, and the location of the wounds.”  In fact, under the laws of most jurisdictions, there is a presumption that “a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his acts.” In other words, a similar presumption is found in the vast majority of criminal codes. If it were not, then prosecutors would have a horrible time trying to prove mens rea in mot case.  

Modification History

File Created:  07/12/2018

Last Modified:  07/12/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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