“Guilty Mind” and Defense of Homicide

“Guilty Mind” and Defense of Homicide

Criminal Defense Attorney

As homicide lawyers know, in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) both an “actus reus” as well as a “mens rea.” That is, in a criminal trial, the prosecutor needs to convince a jury that the criminal defendant not only committed a guilty act (the “actus reus”) but also that the act was committed with a guilty or criminal mind or intent (the “mens rea”). But what does it mean to have a “guilty mind?”  Perhaps not what you think.

Different Intents for Different Crimes

It is a common misconception that, before a person can be found guilty of a crime, that person must have intended to commit that particular crime. But that is not necessarily true. In fact, the majority of criminal statutes recognize four different levels of criminal mental states, which include:

Intentional: When a criminal statute requires “intentional” conduct, the prosecution must show that the defendant consciously acted with the goal of either committing the act or causing the result. For instance, a person who intends to pull the trigger of a loaded gun while that gun is pointed with the goal of killing that person has acted intentionally.

Knowingly: A person acts “knowingly” when he or she is aware of circumstances that exist and/or the nature of his or her conduct. Suppose an individual is charged with manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance. The law requires that a person do these things “knowingly” before the person can be found guilty of the criminal offense. This would require proof that the person knew that what he or she was manufacturing or delivering was a controlled substance, even if it wasn’t the person’s specific intention to do either.

Recklessly: A person acts recklessly when that person is aware but disregards a “substantial and unjustifiable” risk that circumstances exist or would result. For instance, suppose that a person points a gun in the area of a large crowd (but not at anyone in particular) and fires a gun. This behavior is certainly reckless because, even though the person may not intend to shoot any particular person, shooting a gun in the direction of a crowd creates a significant risk that someone will, in fact, be hit by the bullet.

Criminally Negligent: A person acting with criminal negligence is one who should be aware of a significant risk or that a certain result would occur. For example, suppose two friends are playing with guns by pointing them at one another and pulling the trigger, believing the guns to be unloaded. Unfortunately, one of the guns is not unloaded and one of the friends is shot and dies. The shooter can be charged with criminally negligent homicide for his actions.

Seek Assistance from a Homicide Attorney

A solid defense to criminal charges includes requiring the prosecution to prove all elements of its case beyond a reasonable doubt – including that you acted with the mindset and intent required by the particular criminal statute. This requires an attorney who knows how to review the evidence in a criminal case and bring out the facts, circumstances, witnesses, and other evidence that show a lack of mens rea. If you have been charged with murder, contact a murder lawyer in San Francisco, CA today and let them defend your rights against these charges.



Thanks to The Morales Law Firm for their insight into criminal law and homicide defense.

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