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MENS REA- CRIMINAL LAW

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...   Grand Master - ,  2:37 am On 9 Sep 2017

According to the maxim 'actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea', there is no guilty act without a guilty mind. This has been the fundamental principle governing the administration of criminal justice.

SECTION 24 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE PROVIDES THUS:

'Subject to the provision of this act as regards negligent acts and omissions, a person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission which occurs independently of his will, or for an event which occurs by accident...'.

In ABEKE v. STATE,(2007)9 NWLR (1040)411, mens rea is defined a guilty mind. Thus if A kills B in a forest mistaking him to be a wild animal, A should not liable as he intended not to kill a man but an animal.

In this discourse, we shall examine the elements of mens rea
1. knowledge
2. Intention
3. Forseeability
4. Desirability
5. Motive
6. Malice
7. Negligence/Recklessness
KNOWLEDGE

Here the concern is with knowledge of facts and not of law, since 'ignorantia juris non excusat'-ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Hence it affords no defence that the defendant did not know that the act amounted to an offence.

The test of knowledge seems to both an objective test and a subjective one. That is, what a reasonable man in accused station in life should have known;and what the accused in fact knew. For instance, a reasonable man of average intelligence should know that petrol is flammable (see DAVIES v. THOMPSON)

In R v. HILBERT, where the accused was convicted of taking an unmarried girl under the age of 16 years out without her fathers consent.The House of Lords, reversed the decision because although the accused know that the girl was below the age of 16, he did not know that she had a father.

*When a person is holding a position, he is presumed to possess the skill and knowledge of a average person occupying that position (see The WAGON MOUND).

Knowledge could be actual, imputed or constructive; but where the act requires actual knowledge by the use of terms such as 'knowingly', the prosecution need not only prove that the defendant ought to have known, but that he actually knew.

INTENTION
SECTION 24 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE provides thus:
Unless the intention to cause a particular result is expressly declared to be an element of the offence constituted, in whole or part, by an act or omission, the result intended to be caused by an act or omission.
The effect of this is that a man is said to intend that which is the natural consequence of his action. It is immaterial that it was not what he intended. Thus if A drives recklessly on an Highway, and knock down and injures B and destroy C's building, it is irrelevant that he never intended any of that to happen.
The exception is where a particular kind of intention is required by law. For example what is required for a conviction of murder is an intention to kill or cause grievous harm, thus any other intention falling short of this will not suffice. Thus if A points a gun at B intending to scare him and accidentally kills him, A would not be liable for murder. Similarly, if A aims a screwdriver at B intending to harm him and not do grievous harm and the screwdriver knocks B down and kills him, A would not be liable for murder.

FORESEEABILITY: according to section 24 of the criminal code, except where a particular intention is declared as an element of a crime, it is immaterial that the result of the accused act or omission was not what he intended. So, if A points a toy gun at B to scare him, and B jumps off the balcony and breaks his neck. A would be liable even though he never intended that result. The question is how far will this chain of responsibility go. Take for instance, B owes A money and A threatens B that if he does not pay him his money before 12pm the next day, he will come to his house to kill him; and before 12pm, B commits suicide. Could A be convicted of manslaughter?

This is where the test of foreseeability comes in. Literally, the rule is that 'a person is only liable for the foreseeable consequences of his actions', the test is whether a reasonable would foresee the result as a probable consequence of his action; if a reasonable man can, he will be liable, if not, he will not (see The Wagon Mound (No 1) [1961] AC 388 (Privy Council). In that case, the defendant's vessel, The Wagon Mound, leaked furnace oil at a Wharf in Sydney Harbor. Some cotton debris became embroiled in the oil and sparks from some welding works ignited the oil. The fire spread rapidly causing destruction of some boats and the wharf. It was held that the defendant should have foreseen the possibility of a fire outbreak.

MOTIVE/DESIRABILITY/MALICE: The term Motive connotes the reason for doing a thing.

Desirability connotes that not only was the act of the accused willful he foresaw the consequence and desired it.

Malice connotes ill motive or spite. Section 24 of the criminal code provides that unless otherwise expressly declared, the motive by which does an act or omit to do an act is irrelevant.

That means that as far as liability is concerned, it makes no difference whether the defendants acts were motivated by malice or good intention. Thus, if A willfully kill B in order to save B from unbearable pain, A will still be liable for murder.

Motive is however a relevant fact under section 6 of the Evidence Act; thus, prosecution or defence may however give evidence of motive to establish or negate the existence of mens rea. Also, certain offences requires the prove of motive by use of certain phrases such as '...in order to escape punishment' here, the prosecution must prove that the motive is to escape punishment.

NEGLIGENCE/RECKLESSNESS: Negligence is failure to take the standard of care expected of a reasonable man in the accused station of life (see DONOGHUE v. STEVENSON).

The question is what would a reasonable man have done? The standard of negligence required for criminal liability is higher than the standard required in tort. The standard of negligence required for criminal liability is gross negligence or recklessness (see R v. BATEMAN(1925)28 COX's CRIM CAS 33).

Recklessness connotes that the accused foresaw the probability of the consequence but did the act nonetheless in utmost disregard for the consequences of his action.

QUESTION: IF A SETS FIRE ON B's PICTURES MALICIOUSLY WITH THE INTENT TO BURN IT AND IN THE PROCESS THE FIRE ESCAPES AND BURNS DOWN DOWN B's HOUSE, WILL
A BE LIABLE?

...   anonymous - ,  12:34 pm On 10 Oct 2017

A will not be liable as his intention was not to burn down B's house.

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