Back To CourseCriminal Justice Overview
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Tisha is a licensed real estate agent in Texas. She holds bachelor's in legal studies and a master's degree in criminal justice.
Mens rea and actus reus are elements of criminal activity. For example, let's consider your hypothetical acquaintance, Tabitha. She has instigated a number of fights with several other women in the last few months. Some of her behavior could be explained by her being under a lot of stress due to not being able to get her dream job. One day, she saw another woman she didn't like at the grocery store. They had both been dating the same man at one point, and Tabitha had been hoping to teach the other woman a lesson for a long time. The lesson was to stay away from any man Tabitha had an interest in.
There was a broom nearby, and Tabitha grabbed it. She walked up behind the woman and began to beat her with the broom. Tabitha purposely attacked the other woman (this was her intent) by hitting her repeatedly with the broom (that was her action). It's pretty likely Tabitha will face charges for committing a crime, because both mens rea and actus reus were involved.
Mens rea is the intent a person has behind committing a crime. Typically, there has to be intent behind the crime, but this isn't required in every situation. For example, if a person has committed a crime that is a strict liability crime, the criminal intent element doesn't have to exist. In Tabitha's example, she purposely went after the other woman in the grocery store.
Actus reus is the action the person takes to perform the criminal act. This is the physical action behind the crime. One important thing to note is that, if the physical action is a reflex, this is not criminal. In Tabitha's example, she swung the broom to hit the other woman on purpose. It wasn't a reflex action on her part, so it met the criminal element.
Tabitha seems to cause a lot of trouble, and when she gets into fights with several women over a few months, then it appears that she is intentionally committing crimes. She may blame her actions on her own temper, but the nature of her crimes tend to make most of us believe that she is probably the one to blame. If the other women aren't also involved in several fights and Tabitha is the only one out of the group of people involved in these assaults who is, that somewhat implies that she's really the one to blame.
There are particular elements within both mens rea and actus reus to be considered. It isn't always as simple as a woman purposely going after another with a broom and hitting that victim with a broom for a crime to actually occur. The following will provide more in depth information for each.
Many states consider the four categories of the Model Penal Code when determining if mens rea exists in a crime. These four categories are:
While a crime that falls under strict liability doesn't exactly fit with these four categories, it's also considered. Some states don't consider the categories of the Model Penal Code and instead consider the existence of malice behind a crime. This includes express malice (which means deliberately harming the victim) and implied malice (which means an offender's indifference to the harm he/she may bring to a victim). In Tabitha's case, express malice would likely apply. She went after the other woman with the intent to harm her.
Actus reus can exist depending on the action the offender takes (like Tabitha swinging the broom to hit her victim) or even a lack to act. This is called an omission. One particular way to explain an omission is the mother who neglects her child, which leads to that child suffering harm. For example, let's consider a mother who knows that her boyfriend is physically abusing her child but does nothing to protect her child, or the same mother leaving her young child at home all day by himself without basic care and food.
An important comparison of mens rea and actus reus is that, while they both involve the offender, one involves the mind of the offender while the other involves the physical action (or lack of action) of the offender. Mens rea involves what the offender is thinking or feeling that led to the commission of a crime, while actus reus involves the physical action that the offender performs that leads to the commission of the crime (or failure to act/omission).
Let's take a few moments to review what we've learned about mens rea and actus reus and how they compare and contrast to one another. Mens rea and actus reus are elements required for a crime to exist. We learned that while mens rea involves the intent of the offender to commit the crime, actus reus involves the actual action of the offender committing the crime. In the case of a mens rea crime, it typically is a strict liability crime in which the criminal intent element doesn't have to exist for it to be a mens rea crime. Some states rely on the Model Penal Code to determine if mens rea exists. As such, the offender must knowingly, purposely, recklessly, or negligently commit a crime. Other states rely on the existence of malice, either express malice, meaning deliberately harming the victim, or implied malice, meaning an offender's indifference to the harm he or she may bring to a victim.
While determining if actus reus exists, states will examine whether or not the offender physically acted to commit the crime. If an offender responded as a reflex, this is not actus reus. Further, actus reus can exist if an offender fails to act in certain situations. This is called omission. The existence of mens rea and actus reus are important in determining if a crime actually occurred.
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Back To CourseCriminal Justice Overview
21 chapters | 196 lessons
Next LessonActus Reus: Cases & Elements