The Guilty Mind in the Legal System
Mens rea is a Latin word used to refer to the guilty mind. In the legal system, the term is deemed as an important aspect of crime (Hall, 2008). It is used to mean the mental aspect of crime that goes with the actus reus. Studies indicate that in some cases, actus reus and mens rea have been used interchangeably. For instance, in Australia, the aspects of federal crimes are selected as mental or fault elements (mens rea) or external or physical aspects (actus reus). Mens rea varies with the crime committed. For instance in a murder case, the mental aspects necessitate that the accused acted out of malice, and the proof is required. For arson, the intent should result to a prohibited act. This means that with mens rea, the law does not take into consideration the motive of the crime.
No crime can term one as guilty, if their state of mind is not guilty. This means that, for a defendant to be charged, the crime must comprise of mens rea to some level (Hall, 2008). It is therefore true to state that, no criminal liability is attached to an individual who acted without the fault of the mind.
Therefore, in the legal system, individuals guilty state of mind or mens rea is of paramount before convicting a person of a crime. The legal system uses three states of mind to determine a criminal offense (Parlett, 2011). The three states of mind include recklessness, intention and negligence. A criminal offense definition clarifies which state of mind is the right one for what offense. However, sometimes, the court decides on the cases.
It is unnecessary, for instance to prove a prejudiced mental aspect to determine the liability for the infringement of tort or contract. Nevertheless, in the advent that a contract is infringed, or a tort is committed deliberately, the extent of liability and the measure of damages to be paid by the accused increases.
Criminal responsibility comprises of knowledge, intent, and recognition of a person’s irresponsible action that can result to harm or put a third party at risk, and the negligence in providing the service necessitated by law under a given circumstance (Parlett, 2011). Therefore, mens rea is the foundation of legal accountability in the criminal and civil courts. In the absence of mens rea, an individual cannot be termed guilty. This means that, the prosecution has to verify that the defendant committed a crime in the necessitated state of mind for them to be legally responsible for the crime. If criminals are not found guilty of their actions, by reason of a state of mind, the court is responsible for deciding their charges. Many nations have established mens rea (Parlett, 2011). This is due to the fact that, criminal responsibility determines the liability for punishment.
Unintentional acts are no less than the intentional acts. This is due to the fact that both inflict emotional distress or defamation to the victims either through loss of life or property. Therefore, it is suggested that the unintentional acts should not go completely unpunished. For instance, if a driver ran over a pedestrian accidentally, and the injured dies, the accused will cause emotional distress to the family of the deceased. In addition, the family will also suffer the responsibility of funding the burial of their loved one. Apparently, not every person is generous to to take responsibility for their actions meaning the accused will not even be concerned. In this case, measuring the state of mind will not be of importance as the act is not deliberate. The legal systems therefore, should implement systems to ensure that even the unintentional acts are punished to some extent. This should include laying rules and regulations to cover for hospital bills if the injured is hospitalized or compensation in case of loss of property or death. The systems to be implemented should include but not limited to Voluntary payments for the expenses.
There are a number of tests that can be used to show the existence of mens rea (Parlett, 2011). They include:
- Subjective: in this case, the court ought to be contented that the person accused in reality had the required mental aspect present in her/his mind during the appropriate time.
- Objective: in this case, the required mens rea aspect is attributed to the accused person. It is based on the fact that a sensible individual could have the mental aspect in a similar circumstance.
- Hybrid: the tests in this case is both objective and subjective.