Are you looking for actus reus examples and the definition? It’s below. But we will go much further than that in this article.
Actus reus is the external element of the crime. This means it is what happens outside of the brain of the accused. It has a date and location.
The rest of this article will go far beyond the actus reus definition. It will explain what you need to know. This is part of our law school series. Make sure to see our other articles to ace law school.
It’s helpful for law school in Canada, UK, Australia, United States, and New Zealand. This article could also be helpful for those who are charged with a crime.
The general parts of criminal law are actus reus (guilty act), mens reas (guilty mind), no defence… These are the building blocks across many different offences.
Actus reus is made up of: conduct, circumstances, and sometimes results.
There is no such thing as a thought crime. There is always an action, or sometimes an omission, for a crime to occur.
The conduct is the physical action, like the pulling of the trigger.
The circumstance is also important. Pulling a trigger and shooting a gun might not be illegal. But shooting a human will become illegal.
All criminal offences require a circumstance element. It’s not illegal to have sex, but it is illegal to have non-consensual sex.
Some offences require a result element. For murder, the result is that someone dies from getting shot.
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Conduct crimes versus result crimes
Therefore, there are conduct crimes and result crimes. Conduct crimes don’t require a certain result to occur. An example of this would be drinking and driving.
It’s not required that you kill someone to be criminally charged with drinking and driving. Nothing needs to result from it. Bigamy is also a conduct crime. If you get married while already married, that’s illegal.
Conducts are not specifically defined by the law. For murder and other “results” crimes, there isn’t specific conduct that you have to take to commit the criminal offence of murder.
Any action that you take that kills someone can be murder. It could be with a car, a knife, or a gun.
For “conduct crimes” there is often particular conduct. For example, with drinking and driving, you need to be driving to commit the offence. With a property crime, the property needs to be taken from the victim.
Those are the basic elements of Actus Reus. However, you also need to think about other things. You also need to think about omission liability.
Actus reus examples
If someone doesn’t act to stop something, are they liable? We also need to think about causation in conduct crimes.
It’s the job of a student to think about the types of liability that can arise during a problem question.
We can tell people don’t push people onto a train track and kill them. They still have thousands of other things they can do with their day.
Actus Reus Examples and Omissions Liability
If we impose omissions liability, we are telling people they only have one thing they can do. They have to drop everything else they are working on or doing in their day. You have a single thing you can do with your life.
The courts have to be careful in assigning omissions liability.
You watch an ad on the TV from a charity. They say if you donate money, you can save some people’s lives in Africa.
You could possibly even find out how many lives you can save by donating $100,000. It could be said that by not donating, you are causing their deaths. So what extent do we want criminal liability to apply for omissions.
Of course, you will not be criminally charged under criminal law for not donating to a charity. So what are the requirements to be charged for an omission?
- It is a recognized criminal offence
- There was a duty to act (like parents, police etc…)
- There was a breach of the duty
Conduct circumstance consequence
Generally, there is no duty to save someone. But if the above three elements are met, an omission can become criminal.
The duty to act is different from a duty of care. Duty of care is normally associated with gross negligence. The courts sometimes confuse this.
If we have a positive act, then we can look at the circumstances, and possibly the results.
If we are trying to base liability on an omission, we must establish a duty to act and a breach of the duty.
There are many actus reus examples in common law. Read some cases.
Things that can create a duty to act
- Common law (a judge ruled on something specific)
- Statutes (politician made law)
- Contractual duty (an employment agreement… a lifeguard or police officer)
- Relationship-based duty (parents, a spouse)
A police officer has to save someone. There is a duty to act. You don’t just look for a duty, there needs to be a breach. The duty to act can very. It could be stopping a fight, calling for backup etc…
There can be a duty to act under the statute as well. If you are driving and a police officer pulls you over, you can have to duty to act (blow into the breathalyzer.) You are not allowed to breach that duty.
You also have a duty to act during tax season. Everyone has a duty to act (to submit a tax return.) To not do so is a breach of the duty, which can result in criminal liability (normally fines.)
Contractual duties and actus reus
Train operators and lifeguards can have a duty to act under their contractual duty. One would have to look at their employment agreement.
If a train operator doesn’t pay attention and crashes into a car, can they be liable for gross negligence?
The train operator might accept that they have breached their employment agreement, but not that they have criminal liability.
If a prosecutor can show via an employment agreement that the D had a duty to act, the “conduct” element of actus reus can be met.
We hope you enjoyed this article on actus reus examples. Make sure to see the links in the article to learn more.