Actus reus


The elements of a crime that must be proved for a person to be convicted are: the guilty act (actus reus) and the guilty mind (mens rea). In this way, a person will only be guilty of a crime if they are proved to be culpable or blameworthy in both action and mind.

The first element, actus reus, generally requires that an act was committed. In certain crimes (conduct crimes), the actus reus is the prohibited conduct itself and no consequence of that act need be established (for example, dangerous driving). In other crimes (result crimes), the actus reus of the offence also requires that the act caused a consequence (for example, dangerous driving causing death).

In certain circumstances, an omission can also constitute actus reus. The general rule is that there is no liability for failing to act, unless at the time of the failure to act the defendant was under a legal duty to take positive action. A positive duty to act may arise: from statute; by contract; by public duty; by reliance or voluntary assumption of responsibility or due to the defendant’s prior conduct.

The act must also be committed voluntarily. The defence of automatism exists where the defendant performs a physical act but is unaware of what they are doing, or is not in control of their actions. For example, if a person has a seizure or blackout due to a medical condition and hits someone, they have not voluntarily committed an act, and thus it does not constitute actus reus. Similarly, if someone responds to something by a reflex action over which they have no control, or if a person is physically forced by someone else, it will not constitute actus reus.

Another variation of actus reus is possession, which, whilst not by definition an act, is considered actus reus under the law. Possession is referred to as a ‘state of affairs’ case, wherein what must be proved is the existence of the factual circumstances which constitute the crime.

If you would like to obtain legal advice regarding the actus reus element of a crime, Caven can put you in touch with local specialist crime / criminal solicitors free of charge. So, if you have any questions or would like our help in finding local crime / criminal solicitors please call us on 08001 221 2299 or complete the web-form above.

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