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What is Mens Rea?

what is mens rea

“Mens rea.” Maybe you’ve heard that term thrown around involving your case. Maybe you remember it from this scene in Legally Blonde (2001). What is mens rea? What does it have to do with the law? What significance might it play in your case? As we continue our Mark W. Catanzaro blog series on legal jargon, we’ll answer these questions and more.

What Is Mens Rea?

First, let’s define mens rea. It’s actually a Latin phrase translated literally as, “guilty mind.” Furthermore, it comes from the full Latin phrase, “actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea.” This means, “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.” This all has to do with criminal intent. In order for someone to be found guilty of certain crimes, criminal intent needs to be established. In other words, a person has to know what they’re doing and then do it. Hence, this provides the foundation for a guilty sentence.

How Is It Proven?

Second, in order to answer the question “what is mens rea,” we also need to know how it is proven. So, how can someone prove criminal intent? In some instances, proving intent comes easily. Thus, if someone murders another person by shooting them multiple times, obviously they intended to kill that person. However, if only one shot was fired, how does anyone know if it was an accident? Accordingly, in such instances, mens rea divides into four categories:

  • Acting purposely – the defendant had an underlying conscious will to act
  • Acting knowingly – the defendant stands practically certain that the conduct will cause a particular result
  • Acting recklessly – the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustified risk
  • Acting negligently – the defendant was not aware of the risk, but should have been aware of the risk

Clearly, crimes committed purposely would carry more severe punishments than those committed only knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. Regardless, as you can see, a defendant with a savvy attorney can get off more easily if intent cannot be proven.

What Is Mens Rea? Learn More with Mark Catanzaro

Finally, it should become clear that you need a competent attorney by your side to defend your case. After all, if the court cannot prove intent, that could mean a much lower sentencing! Or even no conviction! So, contact the Law Offices of Mark Catanzaro today, and get the right attorney by your side.


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