What Are the Elements of a Crime?

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What Are the Elements of a Crime?

In United States criminal law, all crimes can be broken down into different elements. In order to convict the defendant, these elements of a crime must then be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt. Most crimes require that three essential elements be present: a criminal act (actus reus), criminal intent (mens rea), and a concurrence of the previous two elements. Depending on the crime, there can also be a fourth element known as causation.

What Are the 4 Essential Elements of a Crime?

1. Criminal Act (Actus Reus)

Actus reus, which is Latin for “guilty act,” refers to any unlawful act or unlawful omission of an act that takes place. An act must be voluntary—the defendant must control the action—in order for it to be deemed a criminal act. If a defendant acts on reflex, then they may not be liable for their actions.

Words can in fact be considered criminal acts and incur the following charges: purgery, verbal threats, conspiracy, or solicitation. Thoughts, on the other hand, are not considered a criminal act but can instead contribute to the second element: intent.

2. Criminal intent (Mens Rea)

In order for a criminal act to qualify as a crime, the mental state of the perpetrator must be taken into consideration. The theory of mens rea dictates that a defendant can only be held culpable when there is criminal intent.

What is meant by the concept of mens rea, however, varies widely. In 2016, the US Supreme Court issued a decision that backed the American Law Institute’s definition of the term in their Modern Penal Code (MPC). The MPC states that an individual may be considered guilty if they have acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.

3. Concurrence

Concurrence refers to the coexistence of criminal intent and a criminal act. Without evidence that the mens rea preceded or occurred at the same time as the actus reus, then the burden of proof falls short. 

4. Causation

This fourth element of a crime is present in most, but not all criminal cases. Causation refers to the relationship between the defendant’s conduct and the end result. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were what led to the resulting crime in question, which is typically harm or injury.

Consult an Arizona Criminal Lawyer Today

With these elements of a crime in mind, Todd Coolidge looks at all the evidence and personally prepares the best possible case for each client. If you are in search of legal defense for a criminal case, contact Coolidge Law Firm today and receive a free consultation. Don’t let your freedom hang in the balance without the right defense on your side! 


Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay (5/10/2019)