What Is Mens Rea?


Quick Answer

In legal proceedings, the term "mens rea" refers to the criminal intent involved in an unlawful act, according to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. Guilt is largely determined by the accused party's mental state and whether or not the act of wrongdoing was committed on purpose.

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Full Answer

In most criminal cases, prosecutors have to clearly identify the mens rea and the "actus reus," or the illegal act, the Crime Museum states. The Model Penal Code provides guidelines for evaluating criminal intent, emphasizing that the accused party must willingly participate in the act and have knowledge of the consequences. Voluntarily participation also takes precedence over an individual's ignorance of the law. For example, a person who behaves recklessly without concern for another's safety can be convicted, even if the perpetrator didn't know the act was illegal.

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