What Are the Elements of a Crime?

In the area of criminal law, crimes can be broken down into four basic elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

What are the 4 Elements of Crime That Must Be Proven?

The four elements of a crime are:

  1. Criminal act
  2. Criminal intent
  3. A concurrence of the previous two elements
  4. Causation

In order to prosecute, the first three elements of a crime must be present. The last element, causation, is often but not always required. The term “conduct” is also often used in criminal cases to reflect the criminal act and intent elements. According to the Model Penal Code (MPC),“‘conduct’ means an action or omission and its accompanying state of mind.” Below, our experienced criminal defense lawyers explain each element of a crime.

What Is Considered a Criminal Act?

A criminal act occurs when any unlawful act or unlawful omission of an act violates a legal statute. A person’s words can also be considered acts under criminal law. Perjury, verbal threats, conspiracy, and solicitation are just a few examples of verbal acts that can result in criminal charges.

However, a person’s internal thoughts are not considered criminal. Instead, thoughts contribute to the second element: criminal intent. In order to be considered a criminal act, the behavior must be voluntary, meaning the defendant must control the action. If a defendant can prove they acted on reflex, then their actions don’t meet the requirement of voluntariness.

What Is the Definition of Criminal Intent?

In addition to proving a criminal act occurred, prosecutors must also convince the court of what the defendant’s mental state was like at the time of the incident. Under the theory of mens rea, the accused can only be held culpable for the act if prosecutors establish that there is criminal intent. However, how courts interpret the concept of mens rea varies widely. According to a 2016 Supreme Court decision that supported the American Law Institute’s definition of the term in their MPC, a person can be found guilty if they have acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.

It is important to note that Intent and motive are not the same thing. Motive is the reason the defendant commits the criminal ac. Although motive can generate intent, support a defense, and be used to determine sentencing, the motive alone does not meet the requirement for mens rea and is not a substitute for criminal intent.

What Does Concurrence Refer To?

Concurrence refers to the timing of criminal intent and a criminal act. In other words, it means proving that the criminal act and criminal intent exist at the same moment. If the prosecution fails to obtain evidence that criminal intent preceded or occurred at the same time as the criminal act, then the burden of proof falls short.

Concurrence is a rare issue in criminal proceedings because the criminal intent often generates the bodily response (criminal act). However, there are rare instances in which the criminal act and intent occur at different times. When this happens, concurrence can’t be established, and the defendant can’t be convicted of a crime.

What Is Causation?

The element of causation is not always present in a criminal case. Causation refers to the relationship between the defendant’s conduct and the final result. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions led to the alleged harm or injury. Because there are a variety of incidents that can occur in which the defendant technically initiates actions that result in harm, it would be unjust for courts to hold the defendant criminally responsible. As a result, causation should not be rigidly determined in every criminal case, and the trier of fact must perform an analysis that promotes fairness.

What Are Attendant Circumstances?

Attendant circumstances are a requirement for some crimes. These are specified factors that prosecutors must prove were present when the crime was committed. This can include the crime’s methodology, location or setting, the victim characteristics, and other factors.

An Award-Winning Criminal Defense Team You Can Rely On

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our team of skilled criminal defense lawyers understand the various intricacies involved with criminal court cases. Our legal team is committed to using our extensive resources and legal insight to represent our clients aggressively and relentlessly. Whether you are being investigated, incarcerated, or charged, our seasoned attorneys possess the vast experience that you need on your side to pursue justice. At our firm, we see it as our job to defend the rights of the accused, so please don’t hesitate to speak to our legal professionals today.

To schedule your free case consultation with Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, give us a call at (800) 462-7160 or contact our firm online.