Have you heard the term elements of a crime? Maybe you heard the District Attorney talk about how the elements are proven in your case? What does this term elements mean? How does it impact your trial? Are you unsure of just how someone is proven guilty of a criminal offense in court? You are in luck. For the prosecution to convict someone of a crime they must prove that the person had the necessary mental state and committed the prohibited conduct that resulted in the crime. These are what is called, the elements of a crime.
How Are Elements of a Crime Broken Down?
Elements are the specific aspects of a crime that the District Attorney will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order for you to be found guilty at a trial. Some of the elements include the act of the crime, your mental state while committing the crime, the intent you had while the crime was committed and more. Let’s talk about some of these elements and how the District Attorney can prove them.
What constitutes the physical aspect of a crime?
- “Conduct” means an act or omission and its accompanying state of mind or, where relevant, a series of acts or omissions.
- An “act” means a bodily movement and includes words and possession of property.
- A “voluntary act” means an act performed consciously as a result of effort or determination and includes the possession of property if the actor was aware of his physical possession or control thereof for a sufficient period to have been able to terminate it. An act that would not be considered voluntary would be something such as sleepwalking or seizures which cannot be cognitively controlled by the mind.
- An “Omission” means a failure to perform an act as to which a duty of performance is imposed by law. Generally, no one has a duty to act in any situation, unless a duty to act is imposed by law based on some relationship or connection between the two parties.
There is always a physical element to a crime. If you get arrested for a DUI, the physical element of a DUI is driving the car while your ability is impaired. You, physically drove a car, while intoxicated. The physical element, or the act, is you driving the car.
What are the different mental states and how are they used to convict?
In the State of Colorado, a prosecutor must prove the mental state of a defendant as it relates to the crime he or she allegedly committed. The mental state required to get a conviction are laid out in the statute or law which is being violated. The levels of culpable mental states are: intentionally or with intent, knowingly or willfully, recklessly, and with criminal negligence.
What does it mean to act intentionally or with intent?
A person acts “intentionally” or “with intent” when his conscious objective is to cause the specific result proscribed by the statute defining the offense. All offenses in this section are specific intent offenses. It is immaterial to the issue of specific intent whether or not the result actually occurred.
Essentially, a party acts Intentionally in regards to their conduct when the purpose of his conduct or action is to cause a specific result.
So, if you are charged with robbery, then your intent would be, the fact that you broke into someone’s house with the intent to steal their belongings and make them yours.
What does it mean to act knowingly or willfully?
A person acts “knowingly” or “willfully” with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists. A person acts “knowingly” or “willfully”, with respect to a result of his conduct, when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result. Essentially, a party acts knowingly in regards to their conduct when he is aware his conduct is practically certain to cause a result.
For example, If you get a DUI, you acted knowingly because you, as a driver in the state of Colorado, know that drinking and driving can result in a DUI.
What does it mean to act recklessly?
“Recklessly”. A person acts recklessly when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists. Essentially, a party acts recklessly in regard to his conduct when he is aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of his conduct but acts anyway.
For example, if you get arrested for a DUI, and your blood alcohol level was a .29, you would be acting recklessly due to the fact that you were so impaired that you knew you could cause great damage to others or yourself and you get behind the wheel anyway. This makes your act reckless.
What does it mean to act with criminal negligence?
A person acts with criminal negligence when, through a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise, he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists. Essentially, a party acts with criminal negligence when, he is unaware of the risk his conduct poses, while a reasonable person in the same situation would be aware of the risk created.
For example, it is common knowledge that speeding 60 MPH in a 35 MPH is very dangerous and you could get pulled over. So if you get arrested for a DUI and the reason the officers stopped you was because you were speeding 60 MPH in a 35 MPH zone, you could be negligent because a reasonable person would have gone the speed limit due to the risk.
So, what now?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what is needed to prove someone guilty, criminal law is a complex and difficult area of law that requires consultation with an attorney as it relates to every case as every case is unique in its own way. Having a great deal of experience and success as a criminal defense attorney as well as working on the prosecution of many of the same crimes, M. Colin Bresee is well versed in the intricacies and techniques necessary to both defend and prosecute for a criminal offense. Do not hesitate to call today to discuss your legal issues and how we can help resolve your case with the best possible outcome!
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