Mens Rea

What is Mens Rea for criminal cases in Ohio?

  • Mens Rea is the mental mind state you have to have for a particular crime in Ohio. This is also known as criminal culpability. Ohio has four types of mind states when it comes to crimes. They are purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. For example, to be convicted of drug possession in Ohio, a person must KNOWINGLY possess or use a controlled substance.
      • When the person’s specific intention is to cause a certain result or it is the person’s specific intention to engage in conduct that is prohibited.
      • When the person is aware that their conduct will probably cause a certain result or will probably be of a certain nature. A person has knowledge of circumstances when the person is aware that such circumstances probably exist. When knowledge of the existence of a particular fact is an element of an offense, such knowledge is established if a person subjectively believes that there is a high probability of its existence and fails to make inquiry or acts with a conscious purpose to avoid learning the fact.
      • When the person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the person’s conduct is likely to cause a certain result or is likely to be of a certain nature. A person does this with heedless indifference to the consequences.
        • A person has a substantial lapse of due care and fails to perceive or avoid a risk that the person’s conduct may cause a certain result or may be of a certain nature.
  • Purposely is the most strict mind state and Negligent is the least strict. Therefore, if the mind state in a particular offense is Negligent, then Reckless, Knowing, and Purpose will also be sufficient to establish criminal liability.

What is strict liability in Ohio?

  • There is a criminal culpability in Ohio called strict liability. This does not require a particular mind state. All that is required is that you made a voluntary act and committed the crime. You often will see this in traffic violations.
    • For example, if you are speeding, it doesn’t matter if you Purposely, Knowingly, Recklessly, or Negligently did it. All that matters is that you voluntarily made the act to speed.

What happens if a crime doesn’t list a particular mind state / criminal culpability in Ohio?

  • If a particular offense does not specify a mind state / criminal culpability, then Reckless will be used as the mind state / criminal culpability for that offense.

How does Mens Rea / Criminal Culpability affect a criminal case?

  • The particular mental mind state for a criminal offense in Ohio is extremely important. A person cannot be found guilty of a crime unless the prosecutor has proved the correct mental mind state for each element of the charge. They must also prove that you made the act voluntarily.
    • For example, to be convicted of assault in Ohio, a person must KNOWINGLY cause physical harm to another person. If it turns out that the person only RECKLESSLY caused physical harm to the person, then they cannot be found guilty of assault in Ohio.
  • Involuntary acts can negate liability
    • Involuntary acts in Ohio are reflexes, convulsions, body movements during unconsciousness or sleep, and body movements that are not otherwise a product of the person’s volition.
      • An example of this would be sleepwalking. If a person was sleepwalking and punched someone in the face, this would be an involuntary movement so the person could not be convicted.
        • IMPORTANT NOTE – It is often times difficult to prove a case of sleepwalking. There’s often no scientific evidence of sleepwalking. It’s just the person stating that they had no awareness.
  • Can voluntary intoxication be a defense to criminal culpability in Ohio?
    • No. Voluntary intoxication may not be taken into consideration in determining the existence of a mental state that is an element of a criminal offense. Voluntary intoxication does not relieve a person of a duty to act if failure to act constitutes a criminal offense. Evidence that a person was voluntarily intoxicated may be admissible to show whether or not the person was physically capable of performing the act with which the person is charged.

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