AJ 4 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Actus Reus, Burglary, Misdemeanor
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Felonies and Misdemeanors
● The distinction between felonies and misdemeanors is based primarily on the degree of
seriousness. Black’s Law defines the two terms as: a felony is a crime of a graver or more
atrocious nature than those designated as misdemeanors. Generally it is an offense
punishable by death or imprisonment in a penitentiary. A misdemeanor is lower than a
felony and is generally punishable by fine or imprisonment otherwise than in a
● In the former method, the place of imprisonment is critical, in the latter; the length of the
prison sentence distinguishes a felony.
The Legal Definition of a Crime
● All common-law crime contains both mental and physical elements. For example in order
to commit the crime of armed burglary offenders must willfully enter a dwelling, be
armed or arm themselves after entering the house, and knowingly and intentional commit
the crime. A prosecutor must prove all three.
● In general to fulfill the legal definition of a crime all elements of the defining statute must
be proved: actus reus, mens rea, both concurrently present and the defendants actions
were the proximate cause of the resulting injury, thoughts of committing an act do not
alone constitute a crime.
Actus Reus: an illegal act, or failure to act when legally required.
● It is the criminal act; the action must be voluntary, or omission to act.
o The failure to perform a legally required duty that is based on relationship or
status including parents and weds.
Mens Rea: a guilty mind: the intent to commit a criminal act.
● To intend to commit a crime, the person must have clear knowledge of the consequences
of his actions and must desire those outcomes to occur.
● Mens Rea is legally present when a person’s reckless or negligent act produces social
Criminal Negligence: liability that can occur when a person’s careless and inattentive actions
cause harm. Negligence differs from recklessness because it’s considered less serious since the
person did not knowingly gamble with another’s safety but simply failed to foresee possible
Public safety or strict liability crime: a criminal violation—usually one that endangers the public
welfare—that is defined by the act itself, irrespective of intent.