Two components generally must exist in order for a crime to be committed. Latin terms are assigned to these two components: actus reus and mens rea.
Actus meas means that in order for a crime to be committed, there must be some sort act or action. On the other hand, mens rea means that in order for a crime to be committed, there must be some sort of criminal intent or intention. In order to achieve a basic understanding of Pennsylvania criminal law, it is important for a person to understand the concept of criminal intent.
The Meaning of Criminal Intent
As a general principle, criminal intent means that a person has formed a particular decision to proceed on a certain course which violates a particular law. For example, first degree murder includes an element of criminal intent. Criminal intent in the case of first degree murder is that an individual plans and intends to take the life of a specific individual.
Prosecution and Criminal Intent
In order for a person to be convicted of a crime, the prosecutor must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the required criminal intent existed. Indeed, the presence or absence of criminal intent many times becomes the crux in a particular prosecution in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States.
Using the first degree murder example mentioned a moment ago, in order for a defendant to be convicted, a jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal intent to effect a premediated homicide existed at the time the crime was committed.
The lack of premeditation in a first degree murder case does not mean an individual will walk free from a case. Rather, depending on the specific circumstances of a prosecution, that defendant may be found not guilty of premeditated or first degree murder but guilty of some other degree of homicide.
Retain Legal Counsel
The lack of criminal intent can be powerful defense in criminal prosecution. In order to fully protect a defendant’s legal rights and interests, it is crucial to retain capable experienced legal counsel when charged with a crime. A Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney like David C. McKenzie III will schedule an initial consultation with a person charged with a crime at no cost. Possible defenses typically are discussed during the course of an initial consultation.