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Criminal Law
University of Kentucky School of Law
Welling, Sarah N.

CRIMINAL LAW OUTLINE

II. BASIC CULPABILITY DOCTRINES

A. CULPABILITY (MENS REA)

1) MODEL PENAL CODE TERMINOLOGY (Hierarchy):
a) Purpose (similar to “Intentionally.”: knows or hopes it will happen)
b) Knowledge (knows the result is practically certain to occur: must be “aware”)
c) Recklessness (D must actually foresee that a harm may occur)
d) Negligence (should have known (reasonable person): requires “gross negligence”)
e) Strict Liability (usually only for offenses termed a “violation,” with no jail time).

a) PROBLEMS IN NON-MODEL PENAL CODE JURISDICTIONS:
i) Vague Mens Rea Terms are difficult to understand (Faulkner case).
ii) Uncertainty as to which elements the Mens Rea Terms apply to (Yermian case).
iii) Confusion over “Specific Intent” v. “General Intent” crimes
iv) How do Mens Rea Terms apply to the Actus Reus Terms? (Liparota case).
(a) Mistake of FACT defenses allowed;
(b) Mistake of LAW defenses generally not allowed (subject to exceptions below).
v) What if no Mens Rea Term modifies an Actus Reus Term? (Morissette case).

2) Requirement of MENS REA:
a) Literal meaning of Mens Rea: “Guilty Mind.”
i) A crime must contain both the Actus Reus and Mens Rea.
b) “Mens Rea” is an Ambiguous Term, with 2 generally accepted meanings:
i) Broad Meaning: “Culpability” Meaning of Mens Rea
(a) In the early development of the doctrine, many common law offenses failed to specify any mens rea. Mens rea was defined broadly in terms of moral blameworthiness or culpability. Thus, at common law and in jurisdictions that still define the doctrine broadly, it was and is sufficient to prove that the defendant acted with a general culpable state of mind, without the need to demonstrate a specific state of mind such as “intentionally,” “knowingly,” or “recklessly.”
(b) No specific state of mind is required; all that is required is a generally culpable state of mind (e.g. bad character, malevolence, immorality).

ii) Narrow Meaning: “Elemental” Meaning of Mens Rea
(a) Much more prevalent today is a narrow definition of mens rea which refers to the particular mental state set out in the definition of an offense. In this sense, the specific mens rea is an element of the crime. Note that a person can be culpable in that he was morally blameworthy yet lack the requisite elemental mens rea.
(b) Example: Murder statute says, “the intentional killing of a human being by another human being.”
(i) The actus reus of the offense is “the killing of a human being by another human being

ty of a crime.”
(1) D argued that “knowingly and willfully” modifies the 1st part of the statute (“within the jurisdiction”).
(2) P argued that it only modifies what comes after, so it doesn’t matter if D knew he was in the U.S. jurisdiction.
(a) When a statute is not clear on its face, the court will look to legislative intent, prior court interpretations, policy arguments, etc.
(i) Courts also consider the placement of the mens rea term in the statute, which is what this court did.
1. RULE: “Knowingly and Willfully” does not modify any actus reus term that precedes it, but modifies any actus reus term directly following it, or in some cases, any actus reus term in the remainder of the statute.

f) COMMON LAW DISTINCTION BETWEEN “SPECIFIC” AND “GENERAL” INTENT:
i) SPECIFIC INTENT: meant to emphasize that the definition of the offense expressly required proof of a particular state of mind.
Offenses that require mens rea in the elemental sense are specific intent in nature (i.e., “murder” required