What is a Mens Rea Standard in Criminal Cases in North Carolina?

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “If I simply intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?”


Mens Rea, which is Latin for “guilty mind,” is a standard in North Carolina’s criminal cases that helps prevent people from being punished when their intentions were innocent. The concept helps differentiate between an individual who intentionally committed a crime and an individual who did not intend to do it.

judge-gavel-Charlotte-Monroe-Mooresville-Criminal-defense-lawyer-300x200The defendant’s mental state can play a critical role in determining whether they will be convicted of a crime and deciding the severity of their punishment in North Carolina.


Elements of a Crime in North Carolina

As in most other states, in North Carolina, a prosecutor must establish the following four elements to prove that you are guilty of a crime:

  • You committed a criminal act (Actus Reus);
  • You had criminal intent to do it, and your mental state (Mens Rea) did not prevent you from understanding the wrongfulness of the act;
  • The act caused harm to the victim; and
  • The act caused social harm.

In many criminal cases, you cannot be found guilty of a crime if the prosecutor cannot prove the Mens Rea standard. Typically, all of the above-mentioned elements except the intent element are not difficult to prove.

If someone is being accused of a crime, they either performed a criminal act or not. That is the first element. If the criminal act was committed, the act either resulted in harm to the victim and social harm or not. Those are the third and fourth elements.

Proving the second element – Mens Rea – is more complicated. The required mental state to find someone guilty of a crime depends on the type of offense. For some criminal offenses, it is not necessary to prove that the defendant intended to cause harm. For other offenses, the prosecution must only prove criminal negligence.


Types of Criminal Intent (Mens Rea) in Different Crimes

North Carolina law recognizes different types of intent, depending on the nature of the crime. In most cases, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted maliciously or willfully in order to convict them of a crime. Negligence may also be applicable depending on the offense.

Other criminal cases are governed by the strict liability rule. When you are accused of a strict liability crime, the prosecutor does not have to prove your “guilty mind.” In other words, the state of your mind or intent does not matter when it comes to strict liability. The only thing the prosecutor must prove is that you committed the crime.


How to Prove Mens Rea in North Carolina’s Criminal Cases

Often, proving the defendant’s “guilty mind” or Mens Rea is the most challenging part of a criminal case. The prosecutor must demonstrate sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had criminal intent to commit the crime. This usually requires the prosecutor to present factual and irrefutable evidence to prove that you acted willfully, maliciously, or negligently. Also, the prosecutor may find evidence of the defendant’s criminal behavior in the past to prove that they had criminal intent.

If you are being accused of a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Our Charlotte criminal defense lawyer at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, can help you prepare the best strategy in your particular case and challenge the accuracy or validity of the evidence presented by the prosecutor to prove Mens Rea. Call our lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, at (704) 370-2828 to evaluate your options or fill out our contact form. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Uptown Charlotte, Mooresville and Monroe.







The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.






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