Strict Liability

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Topics in Criminal Law

May 25, 2010
Abstract
Strict liability crimes require no culpable mental state and present a significant exception to the principle that all crimes require a conjunction of action and mens rea. Strict liability offenses make it a crime simply to do something, even if the offender has no intention of violating the law or causing the resulting harm. Strict liability is based philosophically on the presumption that causing harm is in itself blameworthy regardless of the actor’s intent (Schmalleger, Hall & Dolatowski, 2010).

Strict liability crimes require no culpable mental state and present a significant exception to the principle that all crimes require a conjunction of action and mens rea. Strict liability offenses make it a crime simply to do something, even if the offender has no intention of violating the law or causing the resulting harm. Strict liability is based philosophically on the presumption that causing harm is in itself blameworthy regardless of the actor’s intent (Schmalleger, Hall & Dolatowski, 2010).

Mens area is the mental aspect of criminal law; it can be easily summarized as the idea of motive. A guilty mind in isolation doesn’t necessarily make him/her criminally guilty. There are essentially four different kinds of Mens rea, intention, where it was planned. Knowledge, negligence and recklessness are the other circumstances where an individual can be describe as being guilty of the mind(Simons, 1997).

Criminal liability is what unlocks the logical structure of the Criminal Law. Each element of a crime that the prosecutor needs to prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) is a principle of criminal liability. There are some crimes that only involve a subset of all the principles of liability, and these are called "crimes of criminal conduct". Burglary, for example, is such a crime because all you need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is an actus reus concurring with a mens rea. There are crimes that involve all the principles of liability, and these are called "true crimes". Homicide, is such a crime because you need to prove actus reus, mens rea, concurrence, causation, and harm. The requirement that the prosecutor must prove each element of criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt is called the "corpus delicti rule"(Simons, 1997).

Strict criminal liability is understood as criminal liability that does not require the defendant to possess a culpable state of mind. Modern criminal codes typically include as possible culpable states of mind the defendant's intention to bring about a prohibited result, her belief that such a result will follow or that a prohibited circumstance will exist, her recklessness as to such a result or circumstance, or her negligence with respect to such a result or circumstance. Strict criminal liability, then, is simply liability in the absence of intention, belief, recklessness, or negligence(Simons, 1997).

We must also distinguish between strict liability with respect to a result element of an offense and strict liability with respect to a circumstance element. Felony-murder, in its most severe form, is an example of strict liability with respect to a result-specifically, a death resulting from commission of the felony. The felon will be liable for the resulting death as if he had intended it, even if there is no proof of intent, or of any culpability. Statutory rape is a common example of strict liability with respect to a circumstance-specifically, the circumstance of whether the female victim is below the statutory age. A defendant can be guilty of statutory rape even if there is no proof that he believed, or reasonably should have believed, that she was below the statutory age. Thus, strict liabilities encompass both liabilities for faultless accidents and for faultless mistakes(Simons, 1997).

Strict liability can also refer, not to lack of culpability with respect to a result or a circumstance, but to lack of culpable conduct. That...
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