The Elements of a Crime

The attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford have been helping Pennsylvania residents defend against criminal charges for over 60 years. In that time, our cases have run the gamut from sexual and drug offenses to white collar crimes. While we assess each client’s situation individually, there are certain common components shared by almost all criminal cases.

Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute explains that, although there are many different types of crimes, the elements of a crime usually break down to two core elements: actus reus and mens rea.

Actus reus is the action component of a criminal offense. According to the LII’s actus reus page, this action can be direct or indirect, as a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case found that omissions or failures to act can also fulfill this element. The element of mens rea speaks to the mental state of the defendant. The LII’s page on the topic indicates that defendants must have had the requisite criminal intent in order to be found guilty of a charge.

In other words, the elements of actus reus and mens rea require that defendants’ criminal actions be paired with a culpable mindset. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must establish the existence of both elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

It should be noted that in civil litigation the injured party only needs to show that a defendant was liable for damages. The standard used in these cases is easier to meet than that required in criminal prosecutions, so criminal and civil trials regarding the same incident may produce different results for the defendant.