Two Key Words To Understand Criminal Law

12 August 2015
 Categories: Law, Blog


One concern when you're faced with criminal charges is simply understanding what people around you are saying. All fields have their jargon, but the legal system has had millennia to build up its stock of jargon words. While you would need volumes to create a thorough legal dictionary, a couple of words can help you to gain an understanding of what you are up against. 

Actus Reus

The legal system frequently falls back on Latin words. This is the case with actus reus, which in the case of criminal law, means the guilty act. The prosecution will charge you with a crime and shoulder the burden of proving your guilt. For your part, you face the need to show that you are not guilty of the act that the prosecution attributes to you. The term ​actus reus is a broad term which covers a whole host of actions that are considered criminal. In some cases, even the failure to act can be considered a guilty act, as is the case if you are negligent. One key to winning a case is to understand clearly what you are charged with, what steps the prosecution must take to prove your guilt, and what options you have to prove your innocence. 

Mens Rea

in some situations, you can do something that constitutes a crime without intending to. For example, maybe you hit and kill a jaywalker with your car. If you hit the pedestrian with a mens rea, or guilty mind, then your consequences will be much more severe than if you simply failed to take every step possible to avoid the collision. In other words, if the prosecution has evidence that you intended to hit the jaywalker, the prosecution will charge you with malice. If, on the other hand, you did everything humanly possible to avoid hitting the jaywalker, you may escape without any consequences. Thus, establishing what your mental state was at the time of the crime can have serious bearing on what sort of charges and consequences you will face. 

Criminal law is complex field, and you cannot be expected to become an expert simply because you have been accused of a crime. On the other hand, understanding a few key ideas will help you to ground your efforts to prove your innocence. Even with a basic understanding of how the prosecution will approach their task of proving your guilt, you should still rely on a lawyer to help you prepare your defense. 

For more information, contact a legal office such as Begley Carlin & Mandio LLP.