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The Common Law Elements of a Crime

One of the basic ways of identifying whether a crime has been committed and whether an individual of said crime is guilty is to look at the elements of the crime as established by the common law. The common law is the body of judge-made law that dates back to the earliest decisions. For any crime, the common law says that certain elements must be in place or else there is no crime. The elements stay the same, what constitutes the element changes from crime to crime.

For any common law crime, there must be an actus reus. The actus reus is the act is itself. For example, in the event that dropped a book on a table in a quiet library was to be made a crime, the act of letting go or releasing the book would be the actus reus of the crime. A book that slips from a person's fingers and hits the table lacks the necessary actus reus of release of the book.

In addition to an actus reus, a crime must have a mens rea. The mens rea is the mental state that an individual must have to have committed the crime. It is also known as the intent. A crime committed without the correct mens rea is not really a crime at all, but merely an accident.

Causation is the third part of any crime. The act must have caused the effect. The most basic test applied to determine if an act caused an effect is the "but for" test. In this test, a jury or individual asks "But for the defendant's actions, would X have happened?" If the answer is no, then the person did not cause the event and so did not commit a crime. If the answer is yes, and all other pieces of the crime have been met, then a person can be found guilty of a crime.

Contact an Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of a crime and are in need of experienced defense, contact Austin criminal defense lawyer Ian Inglis at (512) 472-1950 to discuss your situation and to create a plan for your defense.


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