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Actus Reus: The Criminal Act

All criminal cases, at least in democratic states, are dealt and processed in two parts – proving the act of the crime (actus reus) and the intent of committing the crime (mens rea). Actus Reus is defined as the action of the criminal act which often is the physical assault/murder of a person and/or the destruction of property.

The Foundation for Criminal Law

Actus Reus and Mens Rea are two essential terms in criminal law and they are the factors taken into consideration when judging someone guilty or innocent of a crime. The full Latin terms “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea”, which literally means “an act does not make a person guilty unless mind is also guilty”.

Actus Reus consist of Conduct, Result, State of Affairs or Omission

Conduct: Criminal conduct like lying under oath. Some examples of conduct crimes include theft, rape, possession of drugs or a firearm.

Result: In this case, the conduct can be legal, but the result of this conduct can be criminal. If someone throws a stone and that stone hits a person or property causing injury or damage, then that person can be tried in a court of law. Other examples include assault, battery, murder and manslaughter.

State of Affairs: For state of affairs, the actus reus here is more the state of ‘being’ rather than doing. Like being drunk when driving or being an illegal immigrant in another country.

Omission: Here, it is the omission or failure to act to prevent a crime or saving someone in danger. For example, if you see someone drowning, and you can’t swim, you can at least call for help. It is a duty, imposed by law, to act in a certain circumstance in order to save someone or property in case of theft or fire for example.

Omission, or failure, to act doesn’t usually end up in a conviction of the accused. That means a person can only be criminally liable or responsible where they have performed a positive act. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

Omission can further be classified as:

Creating a dangerous situation and failing to put it rightAccidentally starting a fire and failing to put it out or even informing the authority and calling for help.

Assumption of responsibilityFor example, not giving someone critically ill the appropriate care or failure to call for medical assistance in these instances.

Misconduct in a public office – It concerns only public officials like police officers failing to perform their duty during a crime or the occurrence of an illegal offense.

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