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What is mens rea?

On Behalf of | Nov 28, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

The law is often complicated. This is especially true when looking at criminal law. There are reasons why two people may face a murder charge but one end up free while the other goes to a New Jersey prison. There are also certain rights you have. One of them is that the prosecution must prove its case. To do this, the prosecutor must follow certain rules and meet specific requirements. One of these rules involves mens rea.

The Crime Museum defines mens rea as the mental state you have when committing a crime. The concept of mens rea can mean the difference between a guilty and not guilty verdict. If the prosecution cannot prove that you were deliberate in your actions with a willingness and awareness to commit them, then it could lose the case.

To understand better, consider the example of a person who mistakes someone else’s apartment for their own. They walk into an apartment that does not belong to them without permission of the occupant, which could be a crime of trespassing. However, there was no intent to trespass. The person was not even aware that he was trespassing. The offense lacks men rea.

Do note that this is different from a lack of knowledge of the law, which is not a defense that holds up in court. Mens rea means you did not commit the crime deliberately, whereas not knowing the law means you did not understand what you did was against the law.

When you lacked the intent to commit a crime, it is difficult to prove your guilt. This is an essential component of winning a case for the prosecution. This information is for education and is not legal advice.