Criminal Intent and Mens Rea
In criminal proceedings, one of the major points that can determine how sentencing plays out is the intention of the criminal. Known as the mens rea, a Latin legal phrase that describes a guilty mind, this point of contention can either upgrade a charge, and therefore the penalties, or make the difference between two important legal shades of distinction. Criminal intent has been refined under American criminal law to address the major modes in which a person could know or wish for harm to come upon another.
Perhaps most importantly for civil cases, a negligent mind describes a person who does not understand the kind of damage their actions will create. However, a negligent individual can still be held accountable for his or her actions if he or she acts in a way that a reasonable person in the same situation would not have.
On the other end, if a person is knowledgeable of the kind of harm or damage they may cause, that person may be found reckless instead of negligent. This can significantly increase the penalties the individual will face if convicted.
If a person is about to take an injurious action, but is uncertain whether or not a damaging result will occur, that person may be held as purposefully committing the crime. Although they have a desire to commit the act, they do not need to necessarily be certain that the expected results or damages will occur.
Compared to purposeful crimes, knowingly committed crimes occur when a person not only has a desire to commit a crime, but is reasonably certain that the damages they expect to occur will occur. Again, compared to a purposefully committed crime, this sense of recognition concerning damages or injury can be a crucial factor in sentencing, and will likely result in extremely harsh punishments.
For additional information concerning how a person’s mental state plays into criminal sentencing, contact a criminal lawyer.