What is Mens Rea?

What is Mens Rea?

Mens rea is Latin for “guilty mind.” It looks at the mental element of crimes committed by an individual. In other words, what was the perpetrator’s state of mind before and during the criminal act? Understanding the mental element of committed crimes is essential for accurate processing.

The Five Types of Mens Rea

Today, there are five types of mens rea. In the United States, the five types are general intent, specific intent, negligence, recklessness, and strict liability.

General Intent

General intent means the defendant had the intent to commit a criminal act from the very beginning. When the court uses this type, the prosecution must prove that the crime’s situation shows general intent. In other words, there must be evidence that clearly shows the defendant had the intent to commit a crime, whether or not he was successful. This category of mens rea is often associated with rape, battery, kidnapping, and other violent crimes.

Specific Intent

Specific intent means the defendant committed a crime with a particular end goal or result in mind. In other words, there was a desired result from the crime committed. For this criminal intent to stick, the prosecution must prove that the criminal acted in such a way that he knew something illegal would occur from his actions. For example, if an individual gets into an argument with another person and then pulls out a gun and shoots, this offender knows that he fired with the specific intent to kill or maim. Crimes involving specific intent include burglary, assault, and first-degree premeditated murder.


Negligence is a type of mental state in criminal law where premeditation nor forethought aren't necessary; instead, the individual acts without regard for the well-being of others. Such ignorance of the law can result in the death of innocent parties or the offender himself. For negligence to make sense, the court must show that the individual behaved in such a way that put others at risk of death or injury without critically thinking about the effect of his actions.


Recklessness is similar to negligence. However, there is one main difference. Whereas negligence can argue that the offender was unaware of the law regarding specific actions and behaviors, recklessness is the direct disobedience of laws. The offender knows not to commit such acts because it leads to a prohibited result or is of a forbidden nature.

Strict Liability

The court almost exclusively reserves strict liability for crimes committed against minors. Crimes with strict liability do not require mens rea since there are other laws protecting children. If an offender takes such actions, it will qualify as a criminal act. A strict liability crime includes statutory rape, selling alcohol to minors, and bigamy.


There are many ways to look at criminal intent. One of the most powerful ways to defend or prosecute is to consider the defendant's mental state. The mental element of a crime is just as important as the physical act. Knowing why someone committed a crime or whether there was an intent can answer many questions.

If you need court representation, look no further than Hickey & Hull Law Partners. With decades of experience, we are ready to represent you in all types of criminal cases.