Components of a Crime

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Chapter 2 : Components of Crime

Components of a Crime arrow_upward

  • Crime is a conduct that unjustifiably and inexcusably inflicts or threatens substantial harm to individual or public interests.
  • The elements of a crime are a series of components which must be present in order for it to be demonstrated that someone is guilty of a crime.
  • There are two things that have to be proven in a court of law before it will convict someone of a crime:
    • The Actus Reus (Guilty Act)
    • The Mens Rea (Guilty Mind)
  • The prosecution must provide supporting evidence to demonstrate that:
    • All of the elements of a crime are present in a given case.
    • The defense can challenge the validity of a case on one or more elements.

    The Conduct (Actus Reus) arrow_upward

  • Actus Reus is the guilty act or guilty omission.
  • Actus Reus is a criminal act that was the result of a "bodily movement whether voluntary or involuntary".
  • The Actus Reus in criminal law consists of all elements of a crime other than the state of mind of the defendant.
  • The crime itself may have been intentional or accidental, but the term is most often used to refer to the physical action of a crime when it is done knowingly or with a guilty mind (Mens Rea).
  • Actus Reus is always required in the United States for the commission of a crime, since a person cannot be found guilty of thinking criminal thoughts, or wishing that a crime would take place.
  • Actus Reus covers following points:
    • A Voluntary Criminal Act
    • Status Offences
    • Omissions
    • Possession

    A Voluntary Criminal Act arrow_upward

  • Conduct is a matter of fundamental significance to the structure of criminal law.
  • In order for the Actus Reus of most crimes to be satisfied, the defendant must have voluntarily committed a criminal act.
  • It would be fundamentally unfair to punish individuals who do not consciously choose to engage in criminal activity, and who therefore cannot be considered morally blameworthy.

  • Status Offences arrow_upward

  • As the commission of a crime requires an act be committed, it is unlawful to criminally charge someone based merely upon their status in life.
  • Some defendants claim that the charges against them are designed to criminalize their status.

  • Omissions arrow_upward

  • Most criminal offences require the defendant to carry out some positive act before liability can be imposed.
  • The criminal law not only imposed liability for voluntary acts, but also for acts of omission.
  • While the Actus Reus of most crimes involves a specific action, some crimes can be committed through the omission of proper action.

  • Possession arrow_upward

  • To possess something is defined in Section 10.00(8) as “to have physical possession or otherwise to exercise dominion or control over tangible property”.
  • Possession is another crime that does not require the perpetrator to carry out a specific physical action.

  • Mental State (Mens Rea) arrow_upward

  • Mens Rea is the Latin for ‘guilty mind’ and traditionally refers to the state of mind of the person committing the crime.
  • Mens Rea, or criminal intent, is the essential mental element considered in court proceedings to determine whether criminal guilt is present.
  • The Mens Rea must concur with the criminal act or Actus Reus.
  • Mens Rea allows the criminal justice to differentiate between someone who did not mean to commit a crime and someone who intentionally sets out to commit a crime.
  • There are three main levels of Mens Rea :
    • Intention

    Intention arrow_upward

  • Intention requires the highest degree of fault of all the levels of Mens Rea.
  • A court is concerned purely with what the particular defendant was intending at the time of the offence, and not what a reasonable person would have intended in the same circumstances.
  • In law there are two types of intention:
    • Direct Intent
    • Oblique Intent


    Direct Intent (Purpose Intent)

  • Direct Intent is the typical situation where the consequences of a person's actions are desired.
  • Oblique Intent (Foresight Intent)

  • Oblique intent can be said to exist where the defendant embarks on a course of conduct to bring about a desired result, knowing that the consequence of his actions will also bring about another result.

  • Recklessness arrow_upward

  • Recklessness is the taking of an unjustified risk.
  • To have a "reckless" Mens Rea, a defendant must consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm that will occur from his or her conduct.
  • A person acts recklessly if he is aware of a substantial risk that a certain result will occur as a result of his actions.
  • With recklessness, the actor must be aware of the risk involved with his actions.

  • Negligence arrow_upward

  • Criminal Negligence is the least blameworthy or culpable state of mind.
  • Negligence consists of falling below the standard of the ordinary reasonable person.
  • For negligence, the actor is not aware of the risks but should have known what those risks were.

  • Causation in Criminal Law arrow_upward

  • Causation may be defined as “the logical coming together of the Mens Rea and Actus Reus, resulting in a criminal wrong”.
  • In order to establish whether a defendant can be guilty of a given result crime, one must first establish a factual link between his conduct and the result he is alleged to have caused.
  • Once this has been established, a second thing that must be considered is whether that conduct was a sufficient cause in law.
  • Causation in criminal law is divided into two separate elements:
    • Factual Causation
    • Legal Causation

    Factual Causation (“but for” Causation)

  • It can be established only where the alleged result would not have occurred, or would not have occurred at the time or in the way it did, ‘but for’ the defendant’s act or culpable omission.
  • Legal Causation (Proximate Causation)

  • Legal Causation considers whether it’s fair to hold defendant criminally accountable for the result.

  • Complicity in Criminal Cases arrow_upward

  • Complicity in criminal law refers to when someone is legally accountable, or liable for a criminal offense, based upon the behavior of another.
  • Complicity is the imposition of criminal liability on all persons involved in the commission of a criminal offence, not just the principal offender.

  • Parties to the Complicity arrow_upward

  • Principal Offender/Principal in First Degree
    • Person, who performs the Actus Reus of a crime with the necessary Mens Rea, including:
    • Person who is present at scene.
    • Person involved in joint criminal enterprise.
  • Principal in Second Degree
    • Person who is present at the commission
    • of a crime, and aides, contributes or assists the principal offender, but does not physically commit the crime.
  • Accessory Before the Fact
    • Person who is not actually or constructively present when the crime is committed.
    • Such person solicits, counsels, or commands the principal in the first degree to commit the offense.
  • Accessory After the Fact
    • Person who, with knowledge of another’s guilt, intentionally assists him to avoid arrest, trial, or conviction.

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