Criminal Liability Terms

Includes Actus Reus, Mens Rea, Causation, Co-incidence, Transfred Malice, and Crimes of Omission Definitions.

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  • Created on: 12-03-10 17:29
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What is meant by the term Mens Rea?
This literally means the guilty mind, and there are three parts, which separately or together prove the Mens Rea,
including, Intention, Cunningham Recklessness, and Negligence. Intention is subjective, the courts only wan to know
what the particular defendant would do at the time, not what a reasonable person would. There are two types,
Direct intention where someone intended to do something, and oblique intention where the consequences are not
desired but inevitable. Direct Intention can is seen in R v White, where the defendant poisoned his mothers lemonade
with cyanide with the intention of killing her. This meant there was Direct intent. Oblique intent can be tested for
through the virtual certainty test, in which the courts will assess if the defendant was virtually certain of the outcome
of their actions. This can be seen in the case of R v Woollin, when the defendant threw a three-month-old child
against a wall, killing it. The verdict was manslaughter, as the defendant did not know it would cause death.
Cunningham recklessness comes in the case, R v Cunningham. The defendant broke into a gas meter to steal change,
but instead leaked gas into the next door affecting the victim. As Cunningham did not see the risk he could not be
convicted. A Cunningham recklessness meant the defendant saw the risk but did the action anyway, which is
deliberate risk taking. Negligence can be
What is meant by Co-incidence?
Co-incidence means that the Actus Reus and the Mens Rea must happen at the same time. In R v Taffe 1983, the
defendant smuggled a packet into the UK, believing it contained drugs. It in fact he was smuggling currency. This
meant he had the Actus Reus of smuggling currency but the Mens Rea of smuggling Drugs. He did not have both, so
could not be tried. However, when the defendant commits the Actus Reus, and then forms the Mens Rea when the
crime is realised and still occurring, then this is called the Continuing Act Theory. In the case of Fagan v MPC 196, the
defendant drove onto a policeman's foot, and when realising, swore and told him to wait. The defendant was tried
and found guilty as the Mens Rea was formed when the Actus Reus was still happening. If a person believes they have
killed someone, but actually kills them when disposing of the body, this is called the Transaction Theory. In the case of
R v Le Brun 1991, the defendant punched his wife when they were rowing, and she fell and hit her head. He believed
her to be dead so he dragged her body over a pavement banging her head, resulting in her death. The defendant
was guilty as it was part of the same transaction.
What is meant by Transferred Malice?
Transferred malice is where the Mens rea of an offence can be transferred. For example where A shoots at B
intending to kill B, but misses and hits and kills C, the Mens rea of intention to kill be can be transferred to C.
Consequently A is guilty of the murder of C despite the fact that he did not actually intend to kill C. In the case of R v
Mitchell, the defendant tried to jump a queue in a post office. Another man objected and D hit him, causing him to fall
against the other people in the queue including an elderly women. The elderly woman died in hospital a few days
later. D's conviction was upheld as manslaughter. Under the doctrine of transferred malice he could still be
responsible for the death, even though the intention was to hit the man; the malice was transferred. Also, in the case
of Attorney General's Reference (No.3 of 1994), the defendant stabbed his pregnant girlfriend. She survived but her
baby died four months later from eh stabbing. D was acquitted of manslaughter, but The House of Lords said it was
possible for the doctrine of transferred malice to be applied as the victim was in existence at the time of the Actus
Reus. However, in the case R v Pemberly, the defendant threw a stone at some people but hit a window instead, and
broke it. In this scenario his intention to hurt the people could not be transferred to the window as it is not living.


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