Kinds of Mens Rea


Fundamentals of Criminal Law

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.

Jack Brown, Ph.D.


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This content is released as a draft version for comment by the scholarly community.  Please do not distribute.  


There are several ways to divide up levels of criminal intent. The most common way is based on the degree of blameworthiness.  Model Penal Code states provide for four levels:

  1. Purpose is a level of culpability which has an obvious meaning. The perpetrator did it on purpose—he meant to cause the result of the criminal act.
  2. Knowledge means that the perpetrator didn’t want to produce the criminal harm, but knew that it would happen.
  3. Recklessness means that the perpetrator didn’t mean to cause the harm, but knew the odds of it happening were very high and did it anyway.
  4. Negligence means that the perpetrator didn’t mean to cause the harm and didn’t know the odds of it happening, but should have known the odds were high.

Reckless and negligent conduct are very similar in nature. The important difference between the two is that with reckless conduct, there is a conscious disregard for a perceived risk—the person knew the risk was there. With negligence, it is assumed that there is no awareness of the risk.

If a statute defining an offense prescribes a culpable mental state and does not clearly indicate that the culpable mental state applies to less than all of the elements of the offense, the prescribed culpable mental state applies to each element of the offense. When a statute defining an offense provides that acting negligently suffices to establish an element of that offense, the element also is established if a person acts purposely, knowingly, or recklessly. Similarly, when acting recklessly suffices to establish an element, the element also is established if a person acts purposely or knowingly, and when acting knowingly suffices to establish an element, the element also is established if a person acts purposely.

Knowledge that conduct constitutes an offense or knowledge of the existence, meaning, or application of the statute defining an offense is not an element of an offense unless the statute clearly so provides.  

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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