If you ever go inside a criminal court, you will likely be overwhelmed with all kinds of terms you have never heard of before. More confusingly, a lot of those terms are in Latin.  In this article, we are going to cover two basic Latin phrases that are fundamental to criminal law.  So, if you come across them, you will know what they mean.mens rea

Those two phrases are actus reus and mens rea.  Translated from Latin, actus reus means “guilty act;” and mens rea means “guilty mind.” 

Now, why are those two phrases so important in the criminal law?  The answer is because those two phrases describe the two basic elements the government needs to prove in order to convict a person of a crime. 

Taking a drug transaction as an example.  In order for the cops to charge, and a prosecutor to convict, in a drug trafficking case, they need to show that someone committed an illegal act and they knew they were committing an illegal act.  Thus, you need an act + intent to commit the illegal act to equal a crime.  If we wanted to represent that in Latin, we could say:

Actus Reus + Mens Rea = A Crime

All Drug Crimes Have a Mental State/Mens Rea Element

The concept of actus reus is fairly straightforward.  If someone commits a crime, then they are doing an illegal act (with conspiracy, as discussed previously, the illegal act is the agreement).  So, it is clear that you need some action – or actus reus – to commit a crime.

The concept of mens rea, or state of mind, however, is a little more involved.  The notion that someone intends or knows that he or she is committing a crime is a necessary element of all drug crimes.  Stated differently, you cannot be found guilty of a drug crime unless it is proven that you had the requisite mental state or mens rea to have committed the crime.   

With drug crimes in Ohio, the required mens rea is typically “knowingly.”  That means that you cannot be found guilty of a drug crime in court unless the prosecutor proves that you acted “knowingly” in the drug crime.  In a previous chapter, we provided the legal definition of “knowingly.”  Just to briefly reiterate here, to “knowingly” engage in a drug crime means that you were aware that you possessed, or were trafficking in, controlled substances. 

Most importantly, the mental state of “knowingly” covers instances where you actually know, or should have known, that drugs were involved.  If the facts are clear that a reasonable person under the circumstances would know that drugs are involved, then you cannot claim ignorance and say that you did not have the “knowingly” mental state for a drug crime.   

Are you or someone you know facing drug charges in Cincinnati, OH? 

If you are facing drug charges, you need to speak with an experienced drug crimes attorney as soon as possible. The Law Offices of Steven R. Adams is recognized by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, The Best Lawyers in America, National Trial Lawyers Top 100, and is one of U.S. News' Best Law Firms.  Please contact us online or call our Cincinnati office directly at 513-929-9333 to schedule your free consultation. 

Alex Deardorff
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Criminal defense attorney Alex Deardorff is dedicated to serving her clients throughout the Cincinnati area