mens rea

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From Latin mēns + rea (literally guilty mind), from the English common law precept Actus non facit reum nisi mens rea sit ("The act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty").



mens rea (plural mentes reae)

  1. (general, psychology) A reactive mind, a conscious knowing by the individual that an act was omitted, either by themselves or by another.
  2. (law) A guilty mind, the conscious knowing of a perpetrator while committing an act that the act is illicit.
    • 2006, David Lanham, David Wood, Bronwyn Bartal, Rob Evans, Criminal Laws in Australia, page 198,
      As a general rule the act (or omission) causing death and the relevant mens rea must occur at the same time. The most obvious application of this rule to exclude liability is the case where the mens rea is formed after the actus reus has taken place.
    • 2007, Nikolaj Nottelmann, Blameworthy Belief: A Study in Epistemic Deontologism, page 10,
      The criminal offences not requiring a mens rea proof for convictions are then specifically indicated in the legislature as being under “strict liability.”
    • 2011, Jonathan Herring, Criminal Law, 7th Edition, page 67,
      The majority of serious criminal offences require, in addition to the actus reus, a specific state of mind on the part of the accused, usually referred to as the mens rea. Many less serious crimes require no mens rea, but simply proof that the defendant caused the prohibited harm.
    • 2016, Dennis J. Baker, Reinterpreting Criminal Complicity and Inchoate Participation Offences, page 174,
      The individual mentes reae of the joint perpetrators have to be considered separately.

Usage notes[edit]

In common law legal systems (those of England and its former colonies), different jurisdictions make different classifications of degree of guilt (levels of mens rea). In the highest classification, the guilty party intentionally committed the act in full knowledge of its consequences and that it was an offence; lower classifications imply lower degrees of intention (such as intentionally undertaking a course of action of which the the offence was a likely result).


See also[edit]