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What is mens rea?

If you are facing criminal charges related to violent crime in New York, the judge and jury will take not only the facts of your case into consideration but also your state of mind as you allegedly performed the acts resulting in the charges. Intentional actions to harm someone else can result in more serious penalties, so the prosecution will be attempting to prove that you had a motive for allegedly acting in a way that could cause harm to one or more others. At the same time, you and your attorney will likely try to cast doubt upon the intent behind your actions. According to FindLaw, the legal term for one's state of mind while allegedly committing a crime is mens rea, which translates from Latin to "guilty mind." 

The question of mens rea comes down to whether you intended to break the law and/or behave in a way that would cause harm to others. For example, if you injure or kill someone as a result of a motor vehicle accident but made attempts to avoid the collision, you are unlikely to face criminal charges, although you may be liable for monetary damages in civil court. It would, however, be a different matter if you actively sought out an individual to hit with your car and accelerated to hit him or her with the most force possible.

However, there are situations in which carelessness can reach criminal levels. For example, leaving flammable materials, sharp objects or weapons out in the open where a child may access them may constitute reckless negligence even if there was no intent to cause harm because a reasonable adult should understand that a child could do himself or herself an injury with access to such objects.

It is also important to note that ignorance of the fact that a particular action was illegal is unlikely to serve as an adequate defense against a charge of violent crime. In the first place, a jury is unlikely to believe it, and in the second place, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. If it were, it would undermine the effectiveness of the legal system because people could avoid any penalty simply by failing to learn the law. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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