Actus Reus Essay

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------------------------------------------------- INTRODUCTION The general basis for imposing liability in criminal law is that the defendant must be proved to have committed a guilty act whilst having had a guilty state of mind. The physical elements are collectively called the actus reus and the accompanied mental state is called the mens rea. It is the fundamental duty of the prosecution to prove both of these elements of the offence to the satisfaction of the judge or jury beyond reasonable doubt. In the absence of such proof the defendant will be acquitted. ------------------------------------------------- ACTUS REUS An actus reus consists of more than just an act. It also consists of whatever circumstances and consequences are recognised for liability for the offence in question - in other words all the elements of an offence other than the mental element. Crimes can be divided into two categories: * First, there are conduct crimes where the actus reus is the prohibited conduct itself. For example, the actus reus of the offence of dangerous driving is simply "driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place" (s2 Road Traffic Act 1988). No harm or consequence of that dangerous driving need be established. * The second type are known as result crimes where the actus reus of the offence requires proof that the conduct caused a prohibited result or consequence. For example, the actus reus of the offence of criminal damage is that property belonging to another must be destroyed or damaged (s1(1) Criminal Damage Act 1971). ------------------------------------------------- THE ACTUS REUS MUST BE VOLUNTARY The accused's conduct must be "voluntary" or "freely willed" if he is to incur liability. It may be involuntary for a variety of reasons: ------------------------------------------------- AUTOMATISM Automatism occurs
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