When Accidental Crimes Occur

How does the law handle situations where an accidental crime is committed? Sometimes, a crime will be committed, and in the process of that planned crime, another unplanned crime occurs. What happens in these circumstances? There are a few ways that the law determines the sentence for these situations. The first is determining mens rea, a second is determining motive, and a third is scienter. It also depends on what type of accidental crime was committed, because if someone breaks into a house to steal something and the owner is an elderly woman who has a heart attack and dies because the intruder scared her, then that’s involuntary manslaugher, even though the intent was to break in and steal.

Mens Rea is the Latin term meaning “guilty mind” and refers to determining if the person guilty of committing a crime was aware of his/her actions and knew that the actions were in fact a crime. This is taken into consideration for most crimes. For example, a murder is committed. If the murderer knew they were killing the person and that killing the person was wrong, then that rules it a homicide. If a driver hits another car and kills a passenger in the other car, that is negligent manslaughter because the driver knows that while they did not mean to kill the passenger, they are still responsible for the passenger’s death. Another example is when a parent gets upset with a child and disciplines the child, resulting in the child’s death.

Motive is another way to determine if a crime was accidental. Motive is the reason for doing something, and usually is a hidden reason. Generally, motive is not a deciding factor when determining a verdict on a case, but can help when deciding how long a sentence should be. Motive behind first-degree murder and justifiable homicide are different, even though they both result in a death. First-degree murder is planned out murder on someone, justifiable homicide, which is self-defense, is when someone kills another when they reasonably believe that their life is in danger and not taking action will result in their own death. Motive for first-degree murder is to end the life of another person, motive for justifiable homicide is to protect the well-being of oneself. So while each situation is a murder, the motives behind each were different. First-degree murder has not only mens rea, but also motive.

“Scienter is sometimes made an essential element of a crime that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Scienter is a legal term meaning a degree of knowledge that makes an individual legally responsible for the consequences of his or her acts” (Gardner, Anderson 59). Scienter is when a crime was purposefully committed, but the person who carried out the crime was unaware that he/she was committing a crime. For example, a man buys a television from another person, which is not a crime but was done willingly. The man then finds out the television he purchased was stolen property. Purchasing stolen property is a crime, but since the man did not know that he television that he intentionally bought was stolen, then the jury considers scienter.