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What are the 5 elements of a criminal act?

 elements of a criminal act

The word “crime” is often tossed around loosely. Some people will say it is a crime when children are poorly educated or when a pretty person dresses like a slob. Scientologists think it is a crime if a person lives their lives in an inauthentic way.

In actuality, there are very specific elements of a crime. It is important to know what those elements are in case you fall victim to a crime or are accused of one.

1. Actus Reus or Physical Act

This is the physical act or lack of action that make up the criminal act itself. A crime must be committed with voluntary actions, If one is coerced into their action, or if their actions were involuntary, a prosecutor may have a hard time proving this element of their crime.

If a person fails to act in a way that they are legally expected to, this may be considered an actus reus. For example, a healthcare worker has a duty to report child abuse, if they do not, it may be considered criminal. If someone does not file a tax return, they may be charged with tax evasion.

2. Mens Rea or Mental State

In many cases, a person’s mental state may be taken into consideration when deciding if they are guilty of a crime. The defendant must have committed the crime with a culpable state of mind.

A person does not need to know that an Act was illegal to be guilty. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for it. However, a person must know that the act will cause a certain result or that they were not aware of a risk of which they should have been aware, for their mental state to be considered that of a criminal. You can read more at

3. Causation

Causation has to do with the actions of the accused and the results of those actions. It must be clearly established that the defendant’s actions directly harmed or victimized someone.

4. Concurrence

In order for a criminal act to occur, both Actus Reus and Mens Rea must occur and do so at the same time. In some cases, the Mens Rea may proceed the act itself as most crimes will be planned in advance.

This causes some controversy in cases where people have discussed committing a crime in great detail, but have never actually acted on it.

If a radical student group is infiltrated and caught planning to blow up a building, you would have to establish that they had the means to create the explosion and that their plans were not merely a fantasy. A prosecutor would have to show evidence of some kind of practical plans to carry out their attack.

A police officer in New York went online to discuss killing and eating his wife and other women. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, but that conviction was overturned by a judge. The judge felt there was no evidence that he was actually going to act on his thoughts.

5. Attendant Circumstances

Attendant circumstances are the facts involved in an event. If a person was accused of abusing a nursing home patient, the age and medical condition of the victim would be part of the attendant circumstances.

Proving or disproving these five elements in a criminal case will mean all the difference for the freedom of the accused. Good legal representation and proper preparation are always important in a criminal case. Hiring a good criminal defense lawyer is essential as they will work hard to defend the individual, organizations, or entities that have been charged with a crime.



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