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What the basic elements of crimes

When the law talks about ‘elements’ of the crime, it speaks of the ingredients without which no crime can be committed.

The elements of a crime are the building blocks of a crime. When one of these building blocks is absent or when it is not proven, then no crime could have been committed. Most crimes require two types of elements: the element of an overt act and the element of a specific criminal intent. If you want to be all fancy about it, these are more common referred to as the ‘actus reus’ (the outward act) and the ‘mens rea’ (specific intent to commit the crime).

The law often requires both an overt act and a specific criminal intent to be present in order to commit a crime. If a man shoots another person, he will not be automatically charged with murder unless the specific intent to commit murder is also present.

If that man who shot another was asleep in his house in the middle of the night and he hears his daughter scream, and when he ran to his daughter’s bedroom, finds the man on top of her and shoots him in the leg, the man may have committed an overt act of shooting a man but he had no intent to kill him – his intent was to save his daughter.

Even if because of the shot in the leg the man subsequently bleeds to death as the bullet severed an artery, the father had no intention to kill the man who was assaulting his daughter but only to stop the assault on his daughter. The man cannot be charged with murder.

The outward act must be voluntary on the part of the accused for it to be considered as an overt act constituting a crime. If a man is forced to steal documents from his employer because a competitor of his employer has kidnapped his wife and children and will only release them if he brings the stolen documents, the man cannot be convicted of theft of the documents because the overt act of stealing the company documents as the overt act was not voluntary on his part. To constitute an element of a criminal offense, an outward act must be voluntary. The accused must have acted from a conscious decision of his mind and his own will.

The overt act can last through time or it can be finished as soon as it was started—what matters is that the overt act was completed. If a man hits another with a hammer in the head and then escapes through a window, that overt act may constitute an act of assault which was completed as soon as it was started. If the same man hits another with a hammer repeatedly until he stops breathing and then starts a fire before he escapes through a window , the overt act lasted through time before it was completed. His overt act, when completed, was not an assault but murder.

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Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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