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Strict Liability Crimes






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Oct 20, 2015

Strict Liability Crimes

In several of our recent blog posts, we covered what are called “mens rea” crimes – crimes that require you to have a certain state of mind in order for you to be convicted for them (“mens rea” is Latin for “guilty mind”). These articles explored what it meant to have the four culpable states of mind:

1. Intent

2. Knowledge

3. Recklessness

4. Criminal negligence

Most crimes are mens rea crimes – they require that you have one of these states of mind. However, there are some crimes that don’t require you to have a certain state of mind in order to be convicted. These crimes are called “strict liability” crimes. They don’t care what you were thinking, when you violated the law.

Strict liability crimes usually are lesser offenses than mens rea crimes, like parking tickets. For various reasons, it makes sense for some crimes not to require a culpable state of mind. Many strict liability violations happen so often that requiring a prosecutor to prove what was going on inside your mind in order to prove that you violated the law, and should have to pay a $15 ticket, might bring the government to a halt.

However, there are some strict liability crimes, like drunk driving, that carry surprisingly high penalties. A conviction for operating under the influence, or OUI, as it’s known in Maine, can lead to thousands of dollars in fines, serious restrictions on your ability to drive, and a strong possibility of real jail time.

Having a crime that has severe repercussions but no required state of mind is a huge issue. The lack of a mens rea requirement means that it’s much easier for the prosecutor to convict you for the crime – it eliminates not only an entire aspect of the case for them, but possibly the most difficult one for the prosecutor to prove. It also means that you can be convicted for nothing more than being in a certain physical state, like having a blood alcohol content of at or above 0.08%, regardless of whether you knew you were over the legal limit.

One of the biggest problems that this kind of law has is that it punishes even those who are unaware that what they’re doing is criminal. These people are often shocked, when they are charged for a strict liability crime, and feel justifiably cheated if they’re convicted.

While strict liability crimes are often necessary for very low-level offenses, once they start being used to displace mens rea crimes, or start to come with more serious punishments, they become a threat to our criminal justice system, which should focus on those who deliberately broke the law.

In the context of the strict liability OUI law, the lack of a mens rea requirement means that you need a defense attorney who knows how to show that you didn’t do the act, itself. William T. Bly is such an OUI-defense attorney. With years of experience in the southern Maine area and a track record of successes, call his law office at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online to start preparing your defense.



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