The Elements of Criminal Liability Essay

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The Elements of Criminal Liability


"Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea", or "an act does not make a man guilty unless his mind be also guilty (Burgess, 2004, p.8)." In criminal law, for an individual to commit a crime, there must be present two elements. They are:
• Actus Reus (meaning guilty act – or omission); and
• Mens Rea (meaning guilty mind).

Actus Reus is the guilty act or omission in the commissioning of a crime. In short, it is what the offender does or doesn't do which results in a crime taking place. Mens Rea is the guilty mind behind the crime. It is what tells the offender that what they are doing or not doing is wrong but they do it regardless. An act can be described as an action carried
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• Provocation: the accused may claim provocation or a loss of self-control. While this is not a full defence to most crimes, provocation is said to affect an individuals' mens rea. With out full mens rea, the severity or seriousness of an offence is reduced. For example, if a person accused of murder claims to have been provoked into committing murder, their charge may be lessened to manslaughter. In 1998, Barbara Denny was found non guilty for the murder of her husband, but guilty of manslaughter. Her not guilty plea was based on provocation related to her husband's behaviour during their marriage. She received a three year suspended sentence (R v. Denny [1998] VLR 938). In Mrs. Denny's case, the prosecution was unable to establish full mens rea and therefore could not have her convicted of murder.

• Battered Woman Syndrome: while generally not a widely accepted defence in most cases, when used it does affect the element of mens rea and therefore whether the accused can be found guilty of the offence. The defence of battered woman syndrome is more often than not used to support the defence of self-defence. When using the two together, it is necessary to prove that force was necessary to protect the offender or others against death or serious bodily harm (Beazer, 2002, p. 103). For example: Annie and Stephen have been married for 30 years and for 30 years, Stephen has beaten, abused and humiliated Annie on a daily basis. One day Annie made