Are you looking for mens rea examples? This article will cover what is normally covered in a law school lecture. It also takes from the chapters you will likely read.
It is helpful for those going to law school in the UK, Canada, the United States, or other common law countries.
This article will get into intension and recklessness. We will then get into transferred malice. Next in line is coincidence as it relates to MR.
We won’t cover strict liability.
Make sure to see our article on actus reus.
What are some mens rea examples?
The two most common areas of mens reus (MR) are intention and recklessness.
In order to have a crime, you need three things:
- Actus reus
- Mens rea or strict liability
- No defence possible (no excuse)
There is direct and indirect intention. Indirect intention is sometimes called oblique intention in England.
Direct intention is about wanting to carry out the act, but not the result. If you cause a fire on purpose, and the fire kills someone, it’s like intending to kill.
The courts had to widen the net to catch most people for murder who kill due to their acts, even if they don’t have the correct MR.
If someone’s actions are virtually certain, and the D knew it was virtually certain, there can be a liability.
Once we know that the actus reus (AR) is met, we then look at MR.
For MR, there is intension, either direct or oblique. But there is also recklessness.
There is a big difference between subjective and objective recklessness.
Subjective means what the D thinks about a situation. Objective means what a reasonable person thinks. There is much debate about which one should be used to find intention.
For recklessness, we need to look into the D’s mind. R v Cunningham was the key case for this for a long time. In this case, someone was living at his mother-in-law’s house.
Cunningham goes next door and steals cash. He ends up damaging the house gas pipe and even hurts the neighbour by mistake. Read about the case to see what happened. Also, look into the case of “G” which has replaced Cunningham as the main case for recklessness.
Cunningham  was amended in Caldwell  and then overruled in G [2003.] The most updated case is G  UKHL 50.
Mens rea refers to…
Cunningham was overruled, so don’t use it as your case law.
There is also the case of Elliot  if you are looking for additional recklessness and Mens Rea examples.
In the case of G, there were two young boys who set fire to some newspapers. They then tried to put out the fires. A property caught fire causing a lot of damage.
It went up to the House of Lords, and they said subjective mens reus is very important. The courts need to care about what the D thought.
However, sexual offences did not follow the same way. Recklessness is not important with those crimes. You can just fail to believe consent like a reasonable person would. It’s more of an objective test (what a reasonable person would think.)
Some scholars are still arguing that either objective or subjective is correct.
Transferred malice in criminal law
This deals with transferring the MR that was intended for one crime to another. An example is if you mean to shoot someone, but you miss and shoot someone else instead.
You did not have the MR to shoot the second person, even though you had the AR (shooting the gun at a human.) But does that mean that you shouldn’t be charged with murder?
Of course not. Therefore, transferred malice is something that prosecutors can use to transfer the MR to the second victim. It basically closes the loophole.
But you can’t transfer malice between different acts. You can’t transfer an intended assault to property damage. If you throw a rock and someone and miss, you might be liable for assault with a weapon. But the malice can’t transfer over to property damage.
Coincidence and Mens Rea Examples
This is slightly more complex than transferred malice. This deals with bringing together the AR and MR in challenging situations.
The AR and MR must always happen together. You need to be able to map it out in a timeline. We suggest looking at Youtube videos that go into timelines once you are done with this article.
If someone knocks someone out and then throws them off the cliff because they thought the person was already dead, what was the AR/MS coincidence? Was it during the punch, or when someone threw them off the cliff?
The AR that killed them was throwing them off a cliff. And the MR was the punch (assuming they intended to kill them.)
There is a disconnect between the AR and the MR. Technically there is no criminal liability. Now, of course, the courts had to find a way to bring in liability. Otherwise, it would be easy to get away with crimes.
A series of linked actions or omissions can be treated as a chain to find liability.
We will discuss strict liability in another article.
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