Mens Rea: How Courts Determine the Guilty Mind
In many cases, an experienced criminal defense attorney in Orlando, FL may find himself arguing on behalf not on the innocence of a defendant’s actions but on their intentions. Courts will often measure two factors in determining guilt:
- actus reus, meaning the actual physical act of the crime being committed
- mens rea, meaning the actual intention of wrongdoing perpetrated by the criminal
This seemingly innocuous difference is very often a major point in several criminal defense cases. For example, if an Orlando defendant claims self-defense in a murder trial, then the actus reus, or the fact that the defendant killed someone, is not in question during the trial. Instead, his Orlando criminal lawyer would need to argue the lack of a mens rea, that the defendant committed the crime not out of malice but of necessity.
Negligence Versus Reckless Negligence
Reaching a conclusion in regards to the intention of the act can drastically affect the outcome of the final verdict. Take for example, an Orlando defendant who accidentally loses control of his vehicle and injures a pedestrian. His charge would not be as drastic or as severe as a defendant who deliberately steered his car off the road. The critical balance between action and intention yield significantly distinct results for an Orlando criminal defense lawyer.
- Actus reus with no mens rea
The aforementioned accident would only result in a civil claim of liability.
- Actus reus with mens rea
The deliberate nature of the act now makes it a criminal assault.
- Mens rea with no actus reus
If the same defendant failed to really injure anyone, but still deliberately drove with the same intention and disregard for others the charges can be just as drastic if not more so.
Many prosecutors likewise have to prove malice aforethought, particularly with murder charges. This means that the act was committed not in a moment of passion or poor judgment but with predetermined planning to cause harm.
Cases That Are Not Affected By Mens Rea
There are several situations where determining intention carries no weight in the defense. Traffic tickets, for example, will not be thrown out simply because your Orlando criminal lawyer insists that you did not mean to break traffic laws. Many people attempt to argue that they were unaware of their actions being unlawful, but as the saying goes “ignorance of the law excuses no one”.
When the State of Florida passed the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, opponents of the act responded negatively to its new disregard to mens rea. By this law, upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 2012, those charged with the illegal possession or sale of controlled substances would not be protected by the determination of intent. For example, a defendant carrying an unopened package for a friend may be unaware that the package contains an illegal substance and, if caught, can make no plea for innocence even though there was no intention to break the law.