Within the scope of criminal law, it is necessary not merely to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant in terms of whether or not they committed an act, but also to determine whether or not the defendant intended to commit the act and did so of their own free will. It is these considerations that brought about in early written law the concepts of mens rea and actus reus. These legal concepts will be the criteria used to evaluate a series of criminal law scenarios.
Upon conclusion of the research, intent and free will as they apply to criminal law will be better understood. Scenario: A Mentally Handicapped Arsonist In this scenario, it is assumed for the purpose of the discussion that the individual in question did in fact commit the crime, which in this case is arson. Moving forward from that assumption, the concepts of mens rea and actus reus will be applied to the scenario.
First, mens rea is applied to the situation at hand; basically, what this amounts to in this case is whether or not the defendant actually intended to commit the act of arson, which is to say that he intentionally set something ablaze with the clear goal of causing damage or destruction of property or harm to individuals. In this particular case, the fact that the arsonist was mentally handicapped essentially makes him incapable of clearly having a goal of commiting the crime of arson, thereby negating the validity of mens rea.
Second, actus reus is considered. While it is accurate, strictly speaking, to say that actus reus was in place in terms of the act of arson taking place, since the arsonist failed to meet the criteria of mens rea, actus reus comes into question as well. The ability to raise such a question comes from the precedent in case law to establish that while an act took place, and in fact there is a definite suspect in the crime, strictly speaking, the criminal liability is simply not there (Simons, 1997). Scenario: A Fifteen Year Old Rapist
The exploration of this scenario is complicated, and encompasses legal controversy that has been brewing for decades and shows every possibility of continuing to do so for many years to come. This being said, the previously established criteria will first be applied at face value to so speak before the intimates of a juvenile offender are discussed. Mens rea would seem to apply in this case without much question; an offender at age fifteen, provided that they were mentally capable of reason, is certainly someone who would, in the commission of an act of rape, have the intention of sexually assaulting the victim in this case.
With a crime of this level of brutality and the obvious outcome once the rape was committed, there can be little debate of the existence of mens rea in this particular case. Of course, this is assuming in this particular scenario that there is a clear case of rape, as the nature of rape has frequently led to the question of whether or not a sexual encounter is actually a rape. However, for the purpose of this research, the offense will have been assumed to in fact be an actual act of rape.
Therefore, it is legitimate to take the scenario a step further and apply the measure of actus reus against the scenario. In this case, actus reus goes hand in hand with mens rea, as once again, the nature of rape makes it somewhat clear that the act of rape was in place, given the clear intent on the part of the violator to inflict an act of violence on the victim- to demean, degrade and violate that individual. Accompanying this scenario, as was earlier mentioned, is a consideration of the issue of the nature of a juvenile defendant.
While strictly speaking from the legal definitions that have been established, a juvenile rapist can fairly be said to have intended to commit the rape, and that the act certainly was one of rape, the issue of contention is whether or not the juvenile offender is of the maturity level to be placed in the same category as an adult who is being accused of the same crime. Legal wrangling on this issue has fluctuated over the years, and is far from being resolved.
Suffice it to say for the purposes of this research, however, that juvenile offenders have to be held to some level of accountability for their crimes, as there are clear cut cases where the intent as well as the act was firmly in place (Robinson, 1997). Scenario: A 6 Year Old Who is Accused of Killing His Little Sister in the Tub While the Two Were Bathing Once again, there is a slippery legal slope to be climbed in the evaluation of this scenario, beginning with the application of the criteria of mens rea and actus reus, and branching out once again to the small details of the overall situation that is being considered.
First, generally speaking, mens rea would not hold up in this case, as, with very few exceptions, would there be a situation whereby a 6 year old would intend to kill anyone in any situation, as a child of that age simply does not have that level of legal cognition (Fletcher, 2000). Additionally, actus reus would not adhere to this case , because if there is no intention to commit murder, the act of murder cannot exist either.
However, as was mentioned before, there are legal intricacies to discuss based on the situation at hand. Few would argue that in the vast majority of cases, a 6 year old would lack intent to commit murder; however, it is worthwhile to put forth the suggestion that in such cases, there be an effort on the part of the criminal law system to ensure that the case is just a tragic accident, and not something indicative of violent tendencies on the part of the child who committed the killing.
It is at this critical juncture that literal intent and accident intersect (Norrie, 1993). Conclusion Finally, it is possible to use the details of the scenarios presented in the research to provide some general discussion about mens rea, actus reus, and criminal law overall. As we have seen, it is not possible to always, or never, paint legal cases with the same broad brush, for there are always distinct circumstances in every case to be looked at.
In the instances of the scenarios here in, there were issues of mental competency, age of reason and intent. These factors have in the past, and will in the future, generate a great deal of legal question, case law, and court decisions. Therefore, in conclusion, possibly one of the most important assertions to be taken from this research is that the system of criminal law is an ever-changing one, and going forward, it will take vast resources to continue to advance criminal law to the next level.
Works Cited Fletcher, G. P. (2000). Rethinking Criminal Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Norrie, A. (Ed. ). (1993). Closure or Critique: New Directions in Legal Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Robinson, P. H. (1997). Structure and Function in Criminal Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Simons, K. W. (1997). When Is Strict Criminal Liability Just?. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 87(4), 1075-1137.