Call Today for a free Consultation
262-923-8761 24 Hour Emergency Contact

New legislation looks at 'mens rea' in criminal justice: Part I

Most of us would consider ourselves law-abiding citizens. But can we be sure? By some estimates, there are approximately 4,500 or more crimes on the books, and that's just at the federal level. And because there is no central database (which would seem like a no-brainer), there is no way to definitively quantify the number of criminal statutes.

With so many potential ways to commit a crime, any of us could be criminals and not know it. This prompts a question that has long been debated in the criminal justice system: Should you be considered guilty by committing a certain act, even if you didn't know the law and had no criminal intent?

Historically, in the United States and elsewhere, crimes generally required two criteria. The first was committing the act itself. The second was a concept called "mens rea," which loosely translates as "guilty mind." In short, an act was considered a crime if it was illegal and if the person committing it knew the law and acted with criminal intent.

Intent is vitally important to discern for certain crimes. If you discharge a gun and kill someone, it obviously matters a great deal whether you did it on purpose or whether it was an accident. The consequence for the victim is the same either way, but your guilt or innocence under the law hinges on mens rea.

But there are many laws on the books that disregard intent or are silent on the issue of intent. For these offenses, ignorance of the law is generally not an acceptable defense. Should that be the case, though? If you are fined for parking in an area with a "no parking" sign, should it matter whether or not you saw the sign?

In late 2015, both houses of Congress introduced bills touted as mens rea reform. If passed, they could significantly change the standards by which federal crimes could be prosecuted in the United States.

Please check back next week as we continue this discussion.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
Choosing the Right Lawyer Buting for the Defense In The News

Our Office

Brookfield Office
400 N. Executive Drive
Suite 205
Brookfield, WI 53005

Phone: 262-923-8761
Phone: 262-821-0999
Fax: 262-821-5599
Map & Directions

Glendale Office
6165 North Green Bay Avenue
Glendale, WI 53209

Map & Directions

How Can
We Help You?


Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

This site uses Google's Invisible reCAPTCHA, which is subject to Google's Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Email Us For A Response
Back To Top payment