In general, a person can only be convicted of crime if he/she has, by their conduct and intention, proceeded to break any of the rules set within the common law or statute. Criminal liability is incurred when the person brings about, or recklessly brings about the elements which constitute a crime.
The elements of crime can be broken down into two – physical and mental. The physical aspect, also known as actus reus refers to the act of committing a crime and the mental aspect, also known as mens rea refers to the intent behind the crime. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the existence of all those elements to establish the commission of the crime.
Physical Elements: The crime may be a single act, or a series of acts and circumstances. Actus reus refers to a voluntary body movement that leads to the crime. Examples include vandalism, physical assault and murder.
An Omission refers to a non-action leading to a crime. Also within the spectrum of actus reus, examples include not warning others of a potentially harmful situation that you created, or the failure to perform an activity that resulted in harm to others.
There is an exception to actus reus if the criminal action was found to be involuntary. An example would be an act that was the result of an involuntary body movement such as a spasm or convulsion. This also includes movements made while the person was asleep, unconscious, or under hypnosis.
Mental Elements: Mens rea refers to the mental state of the person while committing the crime to determine if it was intentional. This can refer to the general intention, or even a premeditated plan to commit a crime.
To simplify this, mens rea determines if the person committed the crime on purpose, or by accident. This is commonly applied to murder cases where the mental state of the accused at the time of the offence is an essential factor to determine if he/she is guilty or innocent.
In this case, the lawyer must prove that the accused had some intention or willingness to commit murder. However, if evidence shows the death to be accidental instead, the suspect may be declared innocent.
Other factors associated with mens rea include joint enterprise where two or more persons are involved. The motive is not necessary for the prosecution but it may be relevant in establishing the intention of the act.
The prosecution will also determine if the act was unlawful, or illegal; whether there was malicious intent involved; if it was done knowingly or unknowingly; voluntarily or otherwise.
Crimes of Strict Liability: In certain cases, a person may be a criminal even in the absence of intention, recklessness or negligence, in relation to one or more of the elements of that crime. These crimes are known as crimes of strict liability – usually cases where the defendant is liable for a crime, even though he/she did not mean to commit it. One example would be selling alcohol or cigarettes to an underaged person.
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Amarjit has vast experience in Singapore’s laws and has defended numerous clients, including some highly-publicised criminal cases. He has guided clients over the years with his deep knowledge, as well as his compassionate approach, and supported by a strong team of lawyers.