If you are charged with a crime, the prosecution has the burden of proving that you committed all the elements of the crime in order to convict you of that crime. Some crimes involve an element that requires a specific mental state which depends on what a defendant was intending to do and what he or she knew. For example, the law treats someone differently if they accidentally kill someone versus if they intentionally kill someone, with the latter being punished more harshly. What a defendant does or does not know, and the intentions of the defendant, can be proven by circumstantial evidence. A skilled Florida murder defense attorney may use the defense that a defendant did not have the requisite mental state to commit the crime.
Mens rea is a latin term which means “guilty mind.” Proving the mens rea, or mental state, of a defendant is a burden for the prosecution if a specific mental state is part of the crime. One of the mental states that may need to be proven is “recklessness.” Recklessness goes beyond general carelessness or negligence. (Negligence can land you in court, but only civil court, not criminal.) Recklessness goes beyond just negligence, and entails doing something that anyone should know is extremely dangerous. For example, leaving a loaded gun out somewhere that children have access to or another equally unreasonably dangerous scenario.
Another common mens rea involves intentionality. Whether a defendant has done something intentionally or unintentionally may be a critical element of the crime. Doing something intentionally requires being aware of what you are doing, For example, if you are selling oregano but someone has switched it out for marijuana, you have not intentionally sold marijuana because you did not know that’s what you are doing. (This is just an example, Florida does not have a mental state element for drug crimes.)
Fact of the Case
The facts of the case are as follows: A man was convicted of attempted murder of a police officer. However, at trial the prosecution never proved that the man was aware that his victim was a law enforcement officer. The defendant’s knowledge of the fact that the victim is a law enforcement officer is something that the jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict someone of attempted murder of a police officer.
The court here noted that the defendant relied solely on a mistaken identity defense. In other words, he said it was someone else who shot at the police officer and he was not present when the crime was committed. The state argued that the defendant should not have his conviction thrown out because he did not bring up the mental state defense at trial. The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal held that there was not evidence of the defendant’s knowledge of the victim’s profession and thus remanded the case for a new trial. They also noted that even though he did not bring up this defense at trial, it was still a valid defense because the burden is on the prosecution to prove all the elements of the crime.
Contact an Experienced Clearwater Murder Criminal Defense Attorney Today!
Murder and attempted murder can land someone in prison for the rest of their lives, so it is absolutely crucial that if you or a loved one are charged with murder or attempted murder that you hire a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. They may be able to defend you on the basis or not having the requisite mental state or another applicable defense. The criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm have the experience and knowledge to defend clients from even the most serious charges. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us using the online form on this website to speak with our attorneys about your case.
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