Guilty acts, guilty minds / c Stephen P. Garvey

New York: Oxford University Press (2020)
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Abstract

You can't be convicted of a crime without a guilty act and a guilty mind." A lawyer might dress the same idea up in Latin: "You can't be convicted of a crime without actus reus and mens rea." Things like that are often said, but what do people mean when they say them? Guilty Acts, Guilty Minds proposes an understanding of mens rea and actus reus as limits on the authority of a state, and in particular the authority of a democratic state, to ascribe guilt through positive law to those accused of crime. Actus reus and mens rea are necessary conditions, among others, for the legitimacy, as distinct from the justice, of state punishment. The actus reus requirement disables a democratic state from using its authority, on the one hand, to ascribe guilt to those who didn't realize they were committing a crime, provided they lacked the capacity to realize they were committing a crime; and on the other, to ascribe guilt to those who realized they were committing a crime, but who lacked the capacity to conform their conduct to the requirements of law. The mens rea requirement disables a democratic state from using its authority, on the one hand, to ascribe guilt to those who didn't realize they were committing a crime, provided their ignorance manifested no lack of law-abiding concern for the law and its ends, and on the other, to ascribe guilt to those who realized they were committing a crime, but whose failure to conform to the law nonetheless manifested no lack of law-abiding concern for the law and its ends.

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