Legal Studies 3080

Mens Rea

It probably seems natural to you that a person cannot be found guilty of a crime unless that person intended to commit it, in other words, unless the mens rea was present. However, mens rea can become a tricky thing to deal with. It is more complex a matter than it first appears.
The mental state required for mens rea to be said to exist can be divided into two types:

    • intent or knowledge
    • recklessness

Intent or Knowledge

As the words suggest, in situations where intent or knowledge must be present for mens rea to exist, it must be established that some sort of intention or understanding was present.

Recklessness, Strict Liability, and Absolute Liability

Sometimes the state of mind necessary to establish mens rea is recklessness. And in some situations, no mens rea is necessary at all.

  • Recklessness: a mental attitude whereby no attention is paid to the possible consequences of an act.
  • Strict liability offence: an offence for which no mens rea need be established by for which an accused may be allowed the defence that reasonable preventative steps were taken.
  • Absolute liability offence: an offence for which no mens rea needs be established and which allows no defence.
  • Attempt: a criminal offence that is committed when a person tries but fails to commit a crime.
  • Conspiracy: a criminal offence that occurs when to or more people plan to commit a crime.

Closely related to recklessness is the legal concept of willful blindness - a failure to find something out after learning the need to find out. For instance, imagine that you were asked to carry a package for someone and you strongly suspected that it contained drugs. If you deliberately made no inquiries and took possession of the package, intending to plead (honestly) to the police that you were not sure what the package contained, you might well be found guilty of willful blindness.