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II.C. Mens Rea

Original Creator: Jeannie Suk Current Version: Griswold Reading Groups Show/Hide

Mens rea—a guilty mind—is the second part of criminal culpability, and undoubtedly one of the most complex subjects we will study in this course. Intricately tied into concepts of blameworthiness, mens rea can determine whether the same conduct and result constitute a blameless accident or a capital offense.

The cases and readings in this section represent a range of mens rea categories, from a lack of mens rea to various grades of mens rea: negligence, recklessness, knowledge, and purpose. As you will see here and throughout this course, there are gradations and exceptions even within these categories.

The questions these cases raise are fundamental to the study of criminal law. As you read through them, consider why each crime requires the mens rea that is attached to it, whether you think that requirement is fair, and the impact of the mens rea requirement on the enforcement of the law. How would the crime have been adjudicated under different mens rea requirements? Does the requirement track your sense of moral blameworthiness?


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  1. 9 Show/Hide More II.C.i Strict Liability
    Original Creator: Jeannie Suk Current Version: Griswold Reading Groups

    As we already discovered in the last section in Garnett v. State, some crimes do not require any mens rea. Such “strict liability” crimes can result in punishment for an act alone. While mens rea is typically a crucial part of defining blameworthiness in criminal law, strict liability crimes are often more concerned with regulating behavior than punishing the most blameworthy offenders.

    The following cases explore this idea. As you read them, consider why a lawmaker might choose to create a strict liability crime, and why a court might allow one. Are certain kinds of crime particularly apt to be strict liability offenses? What effect does removing the mens rea requirement have, and what expectations does it impose upon people?

    1. 9.3 Show/Hide More State v. Phillips
      Original Creator: Jeannie Suk Current Version: Griswold Reading Groups

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May 27, 2016

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Griswold Reading Groups

Harvard Law School

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