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What is Crime? The Guilty Act vs. the Guilty Mind

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A key to beating a criminal charge is understanding what actually constitutes a crime. Many accidents happen every year. People accidentally take things from stores without paying; they forget to pay for items; they leave a weapon in their purse when going into a building that restricts firearms on the premises. Whatever the case, mistakes are generally not crimes. They may constitute other issues, but there are two mandatory elements to any act in order to bring a criminal case against a person – actus reus (the guilty act) and mens rea (the guilty mind).

Our legal team stands ready to defend those charged with crimes throughout Maryland. If you are facing a criminal charge, talk to us before you talk to police or prosecutors.

The Guilty Act

Some areas of the law are based mostly on prior court decisions (i.e. “common law”). Personal injury cases are a good example. On the other hand, some areas of the law are very heavily influenced by written statute, such as criminal law. This is because for each and every crime, there is a written statute that will outline what makes it illegal.

Take for instance a simple crime like using a fake identification to drive or purchase alcohol.  The law says that a “person may not knowingly or fraudulently obtain or attempt to obtain a license by misrepresentation.”  See Section 6-301 of the Maryland Transportation Code. Therefore, if you are caught carrying a fake ID while driving, you have indeed committed a “guilty act” according to the statute. But this is not enough to actually render you in violation of the law. Notice the law says “knowingly.” This brings us to the second element of every crime – intent.

The Guilty Mind 

In the vast majority of criminal statutes, a person must have committed the criminal act on purpose. This constitutes a guilty “mind” or knowledge that the person was doing the act. Note, this does not mean the person has to know it’s a crime. It just means the person has to be acting on purpose. In our prior example, if your friend let you hold his ID card the night before and in your haste you simply handed the officer the wrong identification, this should not be grounds for an arrest. An overzealous police officer may choose to arrest you for flashing the “fake ID.”  You did not intend to use it to drive.

Exceptions to Intent 

On the other hand, there are many statutes in Maryland that are considered “strict liability” statutes. These are criminal laws where intent makes no difference.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Statutory Rape
  • Selling Alcohol to a Minor
  • Many traffic infractions

On the other hand, many other serious crimes, such as rape, murder, and manslaughter are practically never strict liability crimes, because there must be intent to commit the act. Without intent, lesser offenses may be brought, such as involuntary manslaughter – a charge brought when your reckless but unintentional conduct results in someone’s death.

Getting Help After an Arrest 

As you can see, sometimes things can get complicated with criminal charges. You may have committed an act but with no intent to do so, or you may have had the intent but never committed the act. In either case, you may have a strong argument for dismissal. Give the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A.in Maryland a call today to get started, and get the help you need fighting your criminal charges.

Resource:

mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmStatutesText.aspx?pid=&tab=subject5&stab=&ys=2017RS&article=gtr&section=16-301&ext=html&session=2017RS

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