An act does not make a man guilty unless his mind is guilty.
Mens rea means that D has a guilty mind.
Can also be used to refer to the specific mental state required for a crime. (I/P, K, R, N)
Material Elements and Mens Rea in MPC
Definition of Material Elements (MPC (1.13(10))
Material elements DO NOT deal with…
Statute of limitations
Material elements DO deal with…
The harm or evil, incident to the conduct, sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense.
The existence of a justification or excuse for such conduct.
Mens Rea as to Material Elements in MPC
Each material element must be coupled with a mens rea level. (MPC 2.02(1))
If the offense fails to prescribe the level of mens rea required with respect to a material element, I/P/R is sufficient to establish culpability. (Assume R if no mens rea given! MPC 2.02(3))
If the statute describes the MR level that is sufficient for the commission of the offense but does not distinguish among the material elements, the MR applies to all material elements, unless a contrary purpose plainly appears. (Assume MR applies to all elements! MPC 2.02(4))
Mens Rea Levels of Culpability
If element involves the nature of conduct or a result…
It is the actor's conscious object to engage in the conduct of that nature or to cause such result.
Not the same as motive.
If the element involves the attendant circumstances…
Actor is aware of the existence of such circumstances or he believes or hopes that they exist.
Intent can be reasonably inferred from the circumstances.
Ex. People v. Conley
D hit V in face with wine bottle. Claimed he did not I/K to cause V permanent disability.
Held that I/K can be inferred from the force of the blow, the weapon used, the words of the D, and the surrounding circumstances.
One intends the natural and probable consequences of his actions.
Intent to cause harm to X can apply if D misses X and harms Y.
Intent does not exist only toward the intended victim.
Can think of it as "intent to harm a person" not "intent to harm X."
Specific v. General Intent
General intent is any express or implied mental state in the crime definition that pertains to the actus reus of the offense.
Specific intent is any special MR that is required above and beyond the MR for actus reus.
Ex. Possession with the intent to distribute.
If element involves the nature of conduct or the attendant circumstances…
Actor is aware that his conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist.
If the element involves a result of his conduct…
Actor is aware that it is practically certain that his conduct will cause such a result.
If K of a particular fact is an element of an offense, such K is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence, unless he actually believes that it does not exist. (willful blindness provision)
Willful Blindness (somewhere around K or R, K in MPC)
D takes affirmative steps to avoid the knowledge.
This is just as bad as knowledge since actor consciously tried not to learn because actor knew it was true.
Bad public policy not to recognize willful blindness since it would encourage people to avoid knowledge and avoid liability.
Ex. State v. Nations
Statute: Knowingly engaging in conduct causing a child to endanger the child's welfare.
D employed a 16 year old stripper, took no steps to find out how old the girl was.
Held that D was only R, not guilty. However, the jurisdiction had no willful blindness statute. If had MPC's "aware of a high probability" construction, probably would be guilty.
Difficulties in Proving Willful Blindness
Evidence that can be used…
Overt physical acts that show that D physically acted to avoid K.
Psychological avoidance is harder to prove since it is a mental act. A deliberate mental act is required.
If D exerted mental effort to cut off curiosity, ostrich instruction would be supported.
However, if D just lacked curiosity or mental effort, ostrich instruction would not be supported.
Definitions of Willful
Actor intentionally committed the prohibited act.
Actor intentionally performed the prohibited act in bad faith, with a wrongful motive, or in violation of a known legal duty.
MPC (2.02(8)) - K as to the element satisfies willfulness unless the statute provides otherwise.
Actor consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct.
Actor (not reasonable person) must be know of the risk, not the result.
It is the jury's job to quantify the risk and assess the risk.
The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the actor's conduct and the circumstances known to him, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a law-abiding person would observe in the actor's situation.
Jury must also assess, given the actor's perceptions (subjective) whether disregarding the risk was a gross deviation.
Actor should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct.
No awareness of the D required.
Jury must assess the risk and the factors that are relevant to the risk's substantiality and justifiability (objective view).
The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the actor's failure to perceive it, considering the nature and purpose of his conduct and the circumstances known to him, involves a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the actor's situation.
No MR required for some (or all) element(s) the offense .
Usually seen in "public welfare offenses" where the actor's conduct involves minor violations usually subject to fines or small penalties (rarely jail).
If the penalty associated with the crime is high, the statute is almost definitely not a SL offense.
Ex. Staples v. U.S.
Statute: Crime for any person to possess a firearm that is not properly registered. Firearm = weapon which shoots or can be readily restored to shoot automatically more than one shot by a single function of the trigger.
D possessed a gun that had been modified to fire automatically. D argued he didn't know it had been modified.
Held that Congress did not intend to create a 10-year sentence just for ignorant gun owners. Knowledge as to the automatic capability is required, so not guilty.
Criticisms of SL
SL offenses do not deter since the actor is not aware of the facts that render the conduct dangerous.
Other side argues that making certain offenses SL make people more careful when they are in the area of the offense. Stay far away from it = good thing.
Unjust to condemn a person that is not morally culpable (does not have blameworthy mental state).
SL and Unconstitutionality
If the other elements of the offense, with the SL element excluded, would not constitute a crime, then the SL offense might violate due process and be unconstitutional.
Generally, SCOTUS has said that MR as to each element is not necessarily a constitutional requirement.
SL offense in most states, MR not required as to attendant circumstance of age of the victim.
Ex. Garnett v. State
D was mildly retarded, had sex with underage girl.
Held that the offense is strict liability. If legislature had wanted a MR element as to age, they would have added one.
MPC does not like statutory rape or SL crimes.
MPC allows statutory rape to be SL for victims 10 years old and under.