Crimes are broken up into elements. The two main elements of a crime are a guilty act also known as Actus Reus and a guilty mind also known as Mens Rea.
Criminal Defendant’s State of Mind
Essentially every crime that a person can be prosecuted in Kentucky or any other state requires the commission of a guilty act. That is you cannot be convicted of a crime unless you have committed an act that was in violation of the law.
Many criminal infractions, like traffic violations, are based on strict liability meaning the guilty act is all that is required.
But some crimes actually require the prosecutor to prove that the Defendant had a certain mental state at the time they committed the crime. The most common mental states required by these statutes are intentionally, knowingly and negligently.
Criminal Defense Based on Intent
With statutes that require a certain mental state, it is possible to obtain a not guilty verdict at trial by arguing that the Defendant did not possess the mental state required by the statute. What that means is that the Defendant did the act, but did not mean to do the act or cause the result. For those crimes a person cannot be found guilty if they prove that while they did commit the act it was accidental.
Important Notes for the Criminal Defendant
There are two very important things to note about this topic. (1) It is important to note that this does not work with strict liability crimes because they do not require a mental element; and (2) it is not always the most effective defense in the minds of a jury. Jurors are not attorneys and sometimes do not correctly apply all of the specifics of the law.
If you have questions related to this or any other criminal defense topic, please contact Hurst & Hurst Law.