What are Elements of a Crime?

SQ Attorneys

When facing a criminal charge, many do their own research in order to understand what they are facing. It can help a defendant gain clarity about the statute under which a person been charged. Lawyers are trained to read statutes and determine the “elements” of an offense. But you don’t have to go to law school to understand the elements that make up a criminal act.

You can find the elements of a criminal offense by breaking down the essential components of the corresponding criminal statute. This goes for minor misdemeanors to serious crimes like first-degree murder. This article will help you identify and understand the common elements that make up any criminal law statute.

Criminal statutes are originally derived from common law, which developed from court decisions over time. The Model Penal Code (MPC) provides an overview of the types of crimes that exist in the U.S. legal system. The MPC influences state criminal codes and criminal procedures. The U.S. Criminal Code (UCC) provides a list of all federal crimes. Federal laws and state laws can vary significantly for both criminal laws and civil laws. For example, a state may decide to criminalize being drunk in public, whereas the federal government may not. However, both state courts and federal courts are bound by the U.S. Constitution. Federal and state criminal statutes must adhere to the guidelines and rights established by it.

In order to truly understand the elements of a criminal statute, you must also understand the meaning of mens rea and actus reus. Except for strict liability crimes, the criminal prosecution must prove the existence of mens rea and actus reus in order for a perpetrator to be guilty of a crime.

Mens rea refers to the required mental state that a person must have in order to be guilty of a specific crime. In the burglary statute above, the perpetrator must have “the intent to commit a felony therein.” This is the mens rea element of the statute.

Actus reus is the actual physical act, or omission, that a person must commit in order to be guilty of a crime. The physical elements, or actus reus, of the burglary statute above consist of (1) entry, (2) as a trespasser, and (3) into a building.

Understanding criminal statutes is crucial to understanding your constitutional rights and ensuring that you receive a fair criminal trial. Remember, the prosecution must have sufficient evidence to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order for you to be convicted. Knowing the elements of the crime you have been charged with can help you understand whether you have a valid self-defense claim.

The earlier you’re aware of possible evidence in your favor and can relay it to your attorney, the greater the chance that the evidence can be obtained and preserved for trial or use in plea bargaining. Also, there are common defenses that are often based on the elements of a crime, which may benefit you in a criminal case.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So, it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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