Anonymous asked in Politics & GovernmentLaw & Ethics · 9 years ago


"In the case of R. v. Richard and Walker (1981), both accused were charged with possession of a prohibited weapon under Sections 84 to 90 of the Criminal Code. Section 84(1)(b) includes as a prohibited weapon "any knife that has a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by hand pressure...." Each accused possessed a buck knife, which has a length of steel along the back of the handle that functions like a spring to keep the blade out in use and tucked inside the handle when collapsed. Evidence was presented that though the knife was designed to be opened by pulling the blade, over time the strip of metal can weaken, allowing the knife to be opened with a flick of the wrist.

The arresting officer showed the court that this could be done with both of the accuseds' knives. In their defense, the accused men claimed that they had been unaware that this could be done. The trial judge found them guilty of possessing a prohibited weapon, so they appealed to the Court of Appeal and were acquitted. The appeal judge found that both accused lacked the necessary mens rea for this offense."

Then the question says, "Explain mens rea and how it applies to a criminal case." And, "Explain acus reus and how it applies to a criminal case."

Please help. The two questions after that say,

"Why would the trial judge have likely convicted Richard and Walker? Explain your answer in terms of mens rea and/or actus reus."

"Explain why the appeal court judge would have overturned the trial court's verdict."


4 Answers

  • 9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    The terms 'mens rea' and 'actus reus' are derived from the phrase 'actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea', which means 'the act does not constitute guilt unless done with guilty intent'.

    The actus reus, the guilty act, refers to what a person has to actually do in order to commit the offence. So in this case the actus reus is being in possession of a knife as described by the legislation. For murder the actus reus is causing someone to die, for rape it's sexual intercourse, and so forth. Actus reus is sometimes referred to as the 'physical element' of a crime.

    The mens rea, or guilty mind, is sometimes also called the 'fault element' or 'mental element'. It refers to any kind of state of mind that a person needs to be proven to have had in order for them to be guilty. At common law, the mens rea for an offence generally includes knowledge of any facts necessary to the offence, and an intention to perform any act necessary for the offence. So if we use rape as an example again, at common law the accused needs to know that there is no consent (knowledge) and intend to have sex with someone (intention). Other standards can apply, and of course legislation can freely determine what the mens rea is for a particular offence.

    The difficulty arises, however, when the legislation which creates an offence does not clearly state what the mens rea for that offence is to be. I've not read this case, but from what you've written that seems to be the source of disagreement between the trial judge and the appellate court. The trial judge probably thought that the mens rea for this offence requires only that the accused knows that he is in possession of a knife. The appellate court seems to have decided that the accused needs the additional knowledge of the fact that the knife can be opened by centrifugal force.

    In this case the men knew they had the knives; that much does not appear to have been in dispute. But they did not know that the knives had this prohibited characteristic. So they would be guilty on one view of the offence, but not on the other.

    But again, I haven't read the case, and I'm not going to. That's where you should look for the definitive answer to the last two questions.

  • 9 years ago

    There are 2 basic elements to make a crime punishable: 1st is the overt act (guilty act) which is made punishable by law as defined by the statute itself (acus reus), and 2nd is the malicious and wilfull intent (mens rea) of the offender in committing the crime. Read very carefully this special law and compare it with the state of mind of the accused at the time of their arrest based on the narration of facts of the case you made.

  • 9 years ago

    Google for the definition of "mens rea" and Google for the definition of "acus reus."

    Once you understand those two terms you will likely have a much easier time with your assignment.

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    4 years ago

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