Mens Rea Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Mens Rea, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Mens Rea?

(n) Mens Rea is the guilty state of mind of the accused person while doing or planning to do the guilt or criminal activity.

History and Meaning of Mens Rea

Mens Rea is a Latin term which literally means "guilty mind". In legal terms, it refers to the mental state or intention of a person while committing a crime. It is an essential element of most criminal offenses as it establishes the criminal intent of the accused. The concept of Mens Rea is closely linked with the principle of "actus reus" which refers to the criminal act or omission.

The idea of Mens Rea has its roots in the common law legal system of England. It was introduced in the 16th century as the legal system evolved towards a more nuanced approach to criminal justice. In modern legal systems, the concept of Mens Rea is highly significant as it distinguishes between accidental and intentional offences.

Examples of Mens Rea

  1. A person who plans and executes a premeditated murder is said to have Mens Rea, as he had the intention to commit the crime.

  2. A driver who is consciously aware that he is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be said to have Mens Rea if he causes harm or injury to other people or property.

  3. If a person unintentionally causes a road accident which results in harm to someone else, he will not be liable under criminal law as no Mens Rea is established.

Legal Terms Similar to Mens Rea

  1. Actus Reus: It refers to the physical act or omission that constitutes a criminal offence.

  2. Strict Liability: It is a legal principle where a person is held liable for a criminal offence regardless of their intention or knowledge.

  3. Criminal Negligence: This term refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care or caution while doing an act that a reasonable person would do, which results in harm to another person.