LAW 535-001 – Criminal Law

Guilty Mind


Mens rea, or a "guilty mind," is the culpable mental state that is required for a crime to have been committed.

Some crimes called strict liability offenses do not require mens rea to be convicted thereof.

The Model Penal Code gives four categories of mens rea:

  1. Purposely

    An act is purposeful if it is the actor's conscious object to engage in the conduct or to cause such a result.

  2. Knowingly

    An act is done knowingly if the actor is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause such a result.

  3. Recklessly

    An act is reckless if the actor is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk of his conduct causing such a result.

    Unjustifiable Risk

    An unjustified risk must be both substantial and a gross deviation from reasonable standards.

    A gross deviation from reasonable standards means an extreme selfishness.

  4. Negligently

    An act is negligent if the actor should have been aware of the risk of his conduct causing such a result.

Specific Intent

Specific intent means that the act was committed with the intent or desire to bring about the specific result.

Specific intent is required in any offense which requires specific mens rea requirements above and beyond general intent with respect to mens rea.

Strict Liability

Strict liability offenses do not require mens rea.

Analysis if statute does not specify if mens rea required

If a statute does not specify whether mens rea is required or if it is a strict liability offense, the presumption is against strict liability.

To evaluate, always look at, in order: common law, legislative intent, and the penalty.

  • If the offense has a basis in common law, criminal intent is presumed to be required.
    • This presumption can be rebutted by establishing all of:
      1. Clear legislative intent supporting strict liability
      2. Petty penalty
      3. Conviction does not "gravely besmirch"
  • If the offense does not have a basis in common law, the legislative intent must be looked at.
    • If legislative intent is silent on the issue of mental state, the type and penalty of the law must be looked at.
      • If it is a public welfare law and has a petty penalty, it is presumed to be a strict liability offense.
      • If it is not a public welfare law or has non-petty penalties, mens rea is presumed to be required.
    • If legislative intent says mens rea is required, mens rea is required.
    • If legislative intent says that a strict liability offense was intended, the penalty must be examined.
      • If it has a serious penalty (felony), the statute may be unconstitutional.
      • If it has a petty penalty no criminal intent is required.