Thursday, January 13, 2011

ACTUS REA AND MENS REA

Actus Reus
Actus reus refers to the physical parts of the crime (the guilty act) We can categorize the actus reus elements of a crime into three types: conduct, consequences, and circumstances.An example of a crime which does require a consequence is murder - murder is not committed unless the accused's conduct results in a death.

Mens Rea
The mens rea of a crime is made up of those elements which relate to the state of mind of the accused. FOR EXAMPLE- theft, the mens rea elements are "dishonesty" and "intention to permanently deprive". Mens rea elements are often harder to spot in legislation as the words are adjectives, generally non-standard and emotive. Examples might include "dishonest", "intentionally", "fraudulently", or "knowingly".

The three types of accepted mens rea elements are intention, recklessness or negligence (IRN)

Intention
Criminal intention can be further broken into two groups, direct and oblique.

 A direct intention is the willful desire to commit an act. It must be understood that the intention sufficient to amount to mens rea is only the intention to perform the required criminal act, not an intention for the result to occur. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (Section 47 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861) is a good example here. The requisite mens rea is intention to cause assault. If A intentionally assaults B and harm results, he is guilty of the offence. The fact that he does not intend harm is irrelevant. He intended to do the act, and harm is simply a by-product.

Oblique intention, also known as indirect intention, refers to a knowledge or belief that a consequence is a virtual certainty, and acting with this in mind, although the result may not be intended. To explain further: A intends to punch B, but they are separated by a pane of glass. His intention to punch B is direct as he desires to perform this act. Breaking the glass in pursuance of his goal amounts to the actus reus of criminal damage, but A does not desire for this to take place. Since punching B will inevitably result in breaking the glass, it is a virtual certainty. therefore, in punching B, A had oblique intention for criminal damage - He appreciates that it will happen, and although does not desire it, continues to act regardless.
Negligence
 Transferred Malice
The doctrine of 'transferred malice' operates when there is an unexpected divergence between the defendant's mental state and the occurrence of the actus reus. The mens rea is regarded as transferred when this divergence is immaterial to the definition of the offence. Thus, if D fires a gun intending to kill T but misses and kills V instead, the fact that V's death was unintended does not preclude D's liability for murder. It is sufficient that D intended to kill a person — the identity of that person is irrelevant to the offence definition. Compare this with the situation where D's bullet, instead of hitting T, breaks a window of the nearby house. Here the intention to kill a person cannot be 'transferred' to make D guilty of criminal damage — an offence with a different mens rea requirement


Strict Liability
Sometimes the legislature departs from the maxim actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea by creating offences of strict liability. The liability is said to be ‘strict’ when there is no mens rea requirement in relation to one or more elements of the actus reus. For example, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 the offences involving children under 13 do not require any mens rea on the part of the defendant as to the age of the child (R v. G [2006] 2 Cr App R 17). Here the prosecution needs only to prove that the defendant intentionally committed the relevant acts and that the victim was under 13; his genuine or otherwise reasonable belief that the child was older is irrelevant.

In English law most strict liability offences are statutory, with few common law exceptions such as contempt of the court and criminal libel

CAUSATION & FRIGHT

 Sometimes the fright of the victim forms part of the chain of causation

R V Towers [1874] -The D assaulted a girl who screamed as a  result. The baby in her arms went black in the face, had convulsions and died two months later. The D was held to have caused the death.

R v Hayward  (1908)- a husband who chased his wife threatening her, was liable for her injuries when she jumped out of a window to escape her.

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