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Actus Reus is the physical element of a crime. It can consist of an act, as in Hill and Baxter (1958) when
court discussed examples of when the driver of a car would not be driving voluntarily. These included
being hit on the head with a stone and being stung by a swarm of bees. Such actions would not
amount to actus reus and therefore the defendant could not be guilty. Actus reus also concerns
omissions and state of affairs crimes.
Crimes are further categorised as either conduct crimes, in which the actus reus is merely the
prohibited act i.e. perjury, or result crimes in which prosecution must show that the defendant was
the cause of the prohibited consequence, i.e. murder. Prosecution must show a causal link between
action and consequence.
All actions must be the voluntary controlled acts of the defendant, such as attacking or stealing.
Omissions, failure to act covers situations such as failing to wear a seatbelt or crash helmet, a
statutory duty an failing to uphold an assumed responsibility, R v Stone and Dobinson. In the case the
defendant's had assumed responsibility for Stone's sister. When she died as a result if negligent care
the defendant's were convicted. Omissions could also amount actus reus if the defendant is under a
contract Pittwood (1902), a family relation exists Downes (1875), the defendant has a duty arising
from an official position R v Dytham (1979) or the defendant started the chain of events, R v Miller
(1983). In this case the defendant accidently started a fire but failed to extinguish it or call for help
and so, was convicted of arson.
State of affairs crimes involve `being' rather than `doing' It is the circumstances that exist that make it
an offence, for example possessing a dangerous weapon or stolen property. In R v Larsonneur
(1929) the defendant, a French woman, was deported from Ireland and forcibly brought to the UK
where she was promptly arrested, for being an illegal alien, contrary to the Illegal Aliens Order
Men rea is the mental element of a crime consisting of intention and subjective Cunningham
recklessness i.e. the conscious taking of an unjustified risk or gross negligence that a jury considers
warrants a conviction R v Adamako. In this case the defendant failed to ensure his patient received
sufficient oxygen. The patient suffered a heart attack and died 6 months later, Adamako was
convicted of manslaughter.
Intention can be broken down into direct intention, aim, objective or purpose and oblique intention,
where the jury must consider the issues relating to probability and the defendants subjective ability
to foresee, R v Maloney. Direct intention was defined in the case of Mohan as `the decision to bring
about, so far as it lies in the defendant's power, the criminal consequence and he aims to do so.'
The leading cases for oblique intention are those of R v Woollen (petrol through a letterbox) and R v
Nedrick (baby against a wall) both of which established the rule that in a murder case intention can be
found or inferred if death or serious injury were virtually certain' because `a result seen as virtually
certain is an intended result.'
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Causation occurs in result crimes, those that require an act which goes on to cause a specific result,
for example murder. Where the defendant, to be guilty, must not only have attacked their victim but
also caused the victim to die. Prosecution must show a causal link between action and consequence.…read more
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The general rule regarding omissions is that failure to act will not amount to actus reus. A person is
not required to be a good samaritan. However, there are cases where an omission will amount to
actus reus. These include;
Under a contract, Pittwood (1902) the defendant was under a contract to close a gate next
to a railway to prevent passing traffic when a train approached. The defendant failed to do
so and the train hit a wagon, killing the driver.…read more
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Some crimes are crimes of strict liability. These crimes do not require proof of mens rea. Another way
of describing them is to call them `no fault' offences. Almost all are created by statute, often
concerning road traffic offences or health and safety legislation.
An example of such a crime occurred in R v Prince which involved the abduction of a 13 year old girl.…read more
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A defendant will be guilty if he has the mens rea and actus reus for a crime. If, by mistake, the
defendant causes harm to another individual who is not the intended victim the mens rea and actus
reus will be transferred to the ultimate victim.
In R v Latimer (1875) the defendant removed his belt and swung it at his intended victim, missed,
hitting an innocent bystander. Latimer was convicted of assault as the mens rea and actus reus were