What is an actus reus?
An actus reus is more than just an act. It includes whatever circumstances and consequences that are required for liability for the offense in question which means that an actus reus is composed by all the elements of an offense other than the mental element. Some crimes, such as murder, require production of result of consequences. Other offenses, such as rape or theft, only require a course of conduct. If any element of the actus reus is missing, there is no liability.
Voluntary conduct - When considering actus reus, the accused conduct must be voluntary. If the action is involuntary, there is no actus reus.
- The first reason to have a non-voluntary act is what is called automatism, which is the normal defence, and it happens when a person performs a physical act but is unaware of what he is doing, or is not in control of his actions. Judges have used different expressions about automatism: act performed involuntarily or unconscious involuntary action. Automatism can be seen as being relevant to actus reus, in the fact that the act is not voluntary or alternatively in terms of mens rea in as much as there is no mental element.
- The second case is physical force: the conduct is judged to be involuntary in as much as it is physically forced by somebody else.
- The third category is reflex action: it happens when people respond to something with a spontaneous reflex over which they have no control. Although it is slightly different, reflex action is often classified as a form of automatism. When a man driving his car was stunned by a swarm of bees and lost control of his car and caused an accident. There are 2 possibilities for the defense: automatism or reflex action. If they use automatism, they have to plead that every time someone is in a swarm of bees, he does that (but it is not convenient here). But, if they use reflex action, they have to show that there is no other option other than letting go of the wheel.
[...] In a joint criminal enterprise, two requirements must be satisfied before the defendant can be liable as a secondary party for an act of the principal offender. The principal offender's act must be within the scope of the joint enterprise: it must be an act contemplated by the defendant. The defendant must have foreseen that the principal would commit the actus reus of the full offense and that the principal would do so with the requisite mens rea for the full offense. [...]
[...] - To regulate quasi criminal activities in an as efficient manner as possible. Both principles were laid out very clearly in the Gammon case in 1984. This case concerned a breach of building regulation. The Privy Council held that although there was a presumption of mens rea to be read in all offenses, this can be displaced on clear evidence in 2 kinds of case: o Cases of public protection where social danger exists. o Quasi criminal offenses or of regulatory nature. [...]
[...] Not all negligent behaviour is criminal and there are few crimes that are defined in term of negligence. The main one is manslaughter which does not only require negligence but also gross negligence. There are other crimes with negligence like harassment, causing or allowing the death of a child or a vulnerable adult. Blameless inadvertence. A person is blamelessly inadvertent with regard to consequences or circumstances if he did not realize that this consequence or circumstance might exist or occur and no reasonable person would have so realized. [...]
[...] According to a well-known case in England, “unless a statute specifically provides or the Common Law imposes a duty over one person to act in a particular way towards another, a mere omission to act cannot lead to a criminal liability”. Therefore, the principle is clear: you are not supposed to intervene so as to break omission unless otherwise provided. In the following circumstances, a positive duty to act does exist: - A special relationship between the victim and the defendant can create the duty. [...]
[...] In criminal law, vicarious liability does not exist as a general principle as it does in tort law for example. There are however 3 types of situations where vicarious criminal liability can arise. All 3 situations come from statutes: - Express vicarious liability: Licensing Act 1964: owner of a public house cannot serve after a given hours. If he or any of his employees serve after that said hour, the owner is vicariously liable”. - Delegated management: this is the situation when an employer is under statutory duty and delegates his managerial and proprietary functions to an employer. [...]
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