In today’s criminal law system, people are usually only punished when they have a "guilty mind," which is known by the Latin term "mens rea." If you intentionally break the law, you are seen as having a guilty mind. But, there are a handful of crimes that don’t require a mens rea. These crimes are called strict liability crimes.
As mentioned above, a strict liability crime is a crime that requires no mens rea. That is, they are crimes that doesn’t require you to intend to do something wrong or morally blameworthy. In other words, you are held responsible regardless of your intention(s). Even though you don’t have the guilty mind that usually makes a criminal morally blame worthy, you are held responsible for your actions.
The concept of a strict liability crime can be hard to understand. Here are some examples that may help clarify any confusion:
- Statutory rape laws make it illegal for anyone to have sexual intercourse with a minor. This is a strict liability crime because even if the offender believed his/her partner was of legal, consenting age s/he is still guilty. In other words, you don’t have to intend to have sexual intercourse with a minor and your mind set doesn’t matter.
- Selling alcohol to minors is a strict liability crime because a person who sells alcohol to minors can be convicted even if s/he believed the minors were old enough to buy alcohol.
- Traffic offenses are usually strict liability crimes. For example, you still get a speeding ticket even if you didn’t reasonably believe you were driving within the speed limit.
While it may seem unfair to criminally punish people for making apparently honest mistakes there is at least one justification. In most cases, the benefits to society of strictly enforcing these laws outweigh the costs of punishing someone who appears to be without blame.
If you are accused of a crime, contact a lawyer immediately. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights and defenses. If you would like to learn more about strict liability crimes, a lawyer can be very helpful and inform you of the law in your area.