Topics in Criminal Law May 25, 2010 Abstract Strict liability crimes require no culpable mental state and present a significant exception to the principle that all crimes require a conjunction of action and mens rea. Strict liability offenses make it a crime simply to do something, even if the offender has no intention of violating the law or causing the resulting harm. Strict liability is based philosophically on the presumption that causing harm is in itself blameworthy regardless of the actor’s intent (Schmalleger, Hall & Dolatowski, 2010).
Strict liability crimes require no culpable mental state and present a significant exception to the principle that all crimes require a conjunction of action and mens rea. Strict liability offenses make it a crime simply to do something, even if the offender has no intention of violating the law or causing the resulting harm. Strict liability is based philosophically on the presumption that causing harm is in itself blameworthy regardless of the actor’s intent (Schmalleger, Hall & Dolatowski, 2010). Mens area is the mental aspect of criminal law; it can be easily summarized as the idea of motive.
A guilty mind in isolation doesn’t necessarily make him/her criminally guilty. There are essentially four different kinds of Mens rea, intention, where it was planned. Knowledge, negligence and recklessness are the other circumstances where an individual can be describe as being guilty of the mind(Simons, 1997). Criminal liability is what unlocks the logical structure of the Criminal Law. Each element of a crime that the prosecutor needs to prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) is a principle of criminal liability.
There are some crimes that only involve a subset of all the principles of liability, and these are called “crimes of criminal conduct”. Burglary, for example, is such a crime because all you need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is an actus reus concurring with a mens rea. There are crimes that involve all the principles of liability, and these are called “true crimes”. Homicide, is such a crime because you need to prove actus reus, mens rea, concurrence, causation, and harm.
The requirement that the prosecutor must prove each element of criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt is called the “corpus delicti rule”(Simons, 1997). Strict criminal liability is understood as criminal liability that does not require the defendant to possess a culpable state of mind. Modern criminal codes typically include as possible culpable states of mind the defendant’s intention to bring about a prohibited result, her belief that such a result will follow or that a prohibited circumstance will exist, her recklessness as to such a result or circumstance, or her negligence with respect to such a result or circumstance.
Strict criminal liability, then, is simply liability in the absence of intention, belief, recklessness, or negligence(Simons, 1997). We must also distinguish between strict liability with respect to a result element of an offense and strict liability with respect to a circumstance element. Felony-murder, in its most severe form, is an example of strict liability with respect to a result-specifically, a death resulting from commission of the felony. The felon will be liable for the resulting death as if he had intended it, even if there is no proof of intent, or of any culpability.
Statutory rape is a common example of strict liability with respect to a circumstance-specifically, the circumstance of whether the female victim is below the statutory age. A defendant can be guilty of statutory rape even if there is no proof that he believed, or reasonably should have believed, that she was below the statutory age. Thus, strict liabilities encompass both liabilities for faultless accidents and for faultless mistakes(Simons, 1997). Strict liability can also refer, not to lack of culpability with respect to a result or a circumstance, but to lack of culpable conduct.
That is, the actus reus of the crime might specify and prohibit certain conduct (whether action or omission) by the defendant. For example, a prohibition on driving an automobile above the statutory speed limit can be understood as imposing strict liability, insofar as it is irrelevant that the defendant did not have reason to know that she was traveling at that speed(Simons, 1997). Strict liability leads to conviction of persons who are, morally speaking, innocent. Therefore convicting and punishing those who do not deserve it perpetrates a serious wrong.
Thus some argue that strict liability is a misuse of the criminal law an institution which, should be reserved only for the regulation of serious wrongs done by culpable wrongdoers. It does not follow, however, that all types of strict liability offences are wrong. In particular, there are reasons for thinking that strict liability may be legitimate in non-stigmatic ‘regulatory’ offences, there are many reasons that can be considered in t essay but the focus will be on public protection(Simester and Sullivan, 2003).
From another perspective the public gains greater protection from pollution. Moreover, there are likely to be fewer instances of the actus Reus when doing so is prohibited on a strict-liability basis, because the use of strict liability tends to encourage a higher level of precautions by potential defendants. As Lord Salmon stated :’ strict liability encourages riparian factory owners not only to take reasonable steps to prevent pollution but to do everything possible to ensure that they do not cause it Alphacell Ltd v. Woodward .
Another case that reinforces this point is Donovan J, in St Margaret’s Trust Ltd . ‘There would be little point in enacting that no one should breach the defenses against a flood, and at the same time excusing any one who did it innocently. ‘ The proposition that strict liability increases deterrence is implicit in one of the most common arguments given for abandoning a full mens rea requirement, that protection of the public sometimes requires a high standard of care on the part of those who undertake potential risk creating activities(Simester and Sullivan, 2003).
There is however a dark side to the concept of strict liability. One of the main principles of criminal law is that a person should only be liable if they are at fault in some way, nevertheless imposition of strict liability contravenes this principle as people can be guilty of a criminal act whilst having no real fault. A case that illustrates this well is Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Storkwain Ltd 1986.
Here a pharmacist’s conviction was upheld for supplying drugs without a valid prescription, even though he did not know the signature was forged. Strict liability then can be argued as an unjust method of enforcement for certain crimes, resulting in the innocent being labeled as the guilty(Simester and Sullivan, 2003). On a corporate perspective the need for effective regulation and prosecution of corporate defendants could alternatively be met by a negligence-based standard.
Proof of negligence can be established without reference to the company’s mental state, because negligence is based on conduct. It is, true that negligence necessitates that the prosecution establishes an actus reus by an employee that can be attributed to the company but the same constraint applies to strict liability, in finding who was strictly liable(Simester and Sullivan, 2003). References Roe, D. (2005) Criminal Law’ 3rd edition
Schmalleger, Hall & Dolatowski (2010). Criminal Law Today Simester and Sullivan, Criminal Law: Theory and Doctrine (2nd ed. , 2003) Simons, Kenneth( 1997). When is strict criminal liability just? Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. Chicago: Summer1997. Vol. 87, Iss. 4; pg. 1075, 63 pgs Smith and Hogan(1999). Criminal law cases and materials 7th edition (1999) Storey T. and Lidbury(2004) Criminal law