Utah Criminal Defense - Salt Lake Criminal Attorney
Utah Code 76-2-101 - Actus Reus and Mens Rea
The Utah criminal
code generally follows the traditional common law rule which requires
elements of both conduct and mental state in order to support a
conviction for a criminal offense. The concepts of prohibited conduct
and criminal mental state are often referred
to by the Latin terms "actus reus" (a guilty act) and
rea" (a guilty mind).
In the civil courts, it is common for
liability to be imposed without regard to whether a party to the action
intended or even knew that their conduct was wrong. The conduct itself
is often sufficient to support a civil judgment. But in the criminal
the general rule is that the evidence must support proof beyond a
reasonable doubt that the defendant both committed the wrongful act,
and had the required mental state when the act was committed.
Intentionally, Knowingly, Recklessly, or with Criminal
Under Utah criminal law, the mens rea requirement can be met by proof
that the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with
criminal negligence. If the statute establishing a given crime does not
state a mental intent requirement, then proof of at least recklessness
is required to satisfy the mens rea element. (See Utah Code 76-2-102.)
These mens rea elements are defined under Utah Code 76-2-103
A defendant acts intentionally or willfully with regard to conduct or a
specific result of that conduct when it is the defendant's "conscious
objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result."
defendant acts knowingly with regard to conduct or the circumstances
surrounding the defendant's conduct when the defendant is consciously
"aware of the nature of his conduct or the existing circumstances." A
defendant is considered to act knowingly with regard to the result of
certain conduct when the defendant "is aware that his conduct is
reasonably certain to cause" the required result.
A defendant acts recklessly with regard either to conduct or a specific
result of that conduct when the defendant is "aware of but consciously
disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk" that certain
circumstances exist or that a required result will occur. In evaluating
the risk involved, a fact finder must determine that the risk is "of
such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross
deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would
exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's
defendant is criminally negligent when the defendant "ought to be aware
of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or
the result will occur." Unlike recklessness, criminal negligence does
not require proof that the defendant was actually aware of the risk.
Instead, criminal negligence requires only proof that the defendant's
"failure to perceive [the risk] constitutes a gross deviation from the
standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise in all the
circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint."
If a statute fails to specify a mens rea requirement, then Utah Code
76-2-102 provides that the prosecutor must prove, at a minimum, that
defendant acted with recklessness. Criminal negligence alone will
support the mens rea requirement only if the statute specifically
provides that negligent conduct is sufficient.
General Intent v. Specific Intent Crimes
Criminal charges are sometimes classified as either "general intent" or
"specific intent" crimes.
A general intent crime is one in which the prosecutor must only prove
that the person committed the act, and did so either intentionally,
knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence. An example of a
general intent crime is "negligent homicide." Under Utah Code 76-5-206,
a person is guilty of negligent homicide if the person commits any act
"with criminal negligence" and by doing so, "causes the death of
another." There is no requirement of any proof that the defendant
intended to cause death. Instead, the only mens rea evidence required
is proof that the defendant's conduct was criminally negligent.
A specific intent crime requires proof not only of the general mens
rea, but also some additional intent element. Theft
is an example of a
specific intent crime. In order to prove theft under Utah Code
76-6-404, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant exercised
unauthorized control over the property of another, and also that the
defendant had the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of
that property. Unless the evidence shows that the defendant had the
specific purpose to deprive the owner of the property, proof that the
defendant's actions were merely unauthorized is not sufficient to
support a charge of theft.
Strict Liability - An Exception to the Rule
Utah criminal law provides an exception to the general rule
requiring proof of a necessary mental state. Certain offenses have been
defined under Utah criminal law as requiring only proof of the
prohibited conduct, without regard to the defendant's intent
or state of mind. Such offenses are sometimes referred to as "strict
Utah Code 76-2-101 provides that if an offense involves strict
liability, then there is no requirement of proof that the defendant
acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligent.
Utah Code 76-2-101(2) specifically exempts sections of the Utah Traffic
Code found in Title 41, Chapter 6a from the ordinary mens rea
requirements of criminal responsibility. For other crimes to qualify as
strict liability offenses, Utah Code 76-2-103 requires that
the statute defining the offense must clearly indicate "a
legislative purpose to impose criminal responsibility for commission of
the conduct prohibited by the statute without requiring proof of any
culpable mental state."
Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City
you have been charged with a crime, having the assistance of an
attorney can be critical. Based in Salt Lake City,
criminal defense lawyer
Stephen Howard has successfully protected his
clients' rights in cases ranging from aggravated murder to shoplifting,
and virtually everything in between. Mr. Howard provides legal services
to clients throughout Utah.
today to arrange
for an initial confidential consultation.
RELATED CRIMINAL CODE SECTIONS
76-2-105 - Transferred Intent
Utah Code 76-2-202 - Accomplice Liability
Code 76-2-304 - Mistake of Fact and Ignorance of Law Defenses
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