When you're charged with a crime, understanding your rights is key to protecting and defending yourself. But most people who face the criminal law system aren't familiar with the intricacies of that system. Consider the two elements of a crime. The best way to defend yourself is to know what the prosecution must prove for there to even be a crime committed. Here's what these two elements are.
The first official element of a crime is known by its Latin term, mens rea. Mens rea refers to the state of mind that is associated with a crime. In many cases, this means that the defendant intended to commit a crime. If you, for instance, genuinely thought that an item belonged to you, you may not have actually committed a theft.
However, the type of crime also determines what kind of mens rea must be proven. Negligent acts like driving while impaired or causing an accidental death require that prosecutors show that the person acted negligently rather than intentionally.
Secondly, there must be an actus reus, or criminal act. This may sound obvious — after all, you've been charged with committing that crime — but there are reasons for this specific inclusion. Most importantly, the state is not permitted to prosecute someone for simply thinking about a criminal act without doing anything to act upon it.
So, what nuances might you look for in your defense? For one thing, mens rea and actus reus must occur together. If you think about taking money from your employer's till but don't, accidentally going home with a leftover item of inventory later doesn't constitute a criminal act. The two elements didn't coincide.
In addition, the actus reus must have been voluntary. If you were coerced into participating in theft, for example, you may have done something illegal but you did not necessarily commit a crime by strict definitions.
Where to Start
These two key elements of a crime are pivotal to finding the best way to defend yourself. Can you show that you didn't intend to commit a crime? That you were forced in some way? That although you thought about doing something, you didn't act on those thoughts?
Your legal representative must focus on the right parts of the prosecution's case in order to be effective. Start preparing yourself to defend against both mens rea and actus reus by meeting with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your jurisdiction today.
For more information, contact a local criminal defense lawyer.