Most people assume that in order to commit a crime the person must have knowledge that their act is criminal. This criminal intent is known as mens rea in Latin. Without such knowledge, the crime is essentially strict liability. Do the act, even if you had no idea that you were committing a criminal act, and you are guilty. While this does not seem fair, our legislature to show they are tough on crime has created several crimes where knowledge of a certain element is not required for a conviction. In the Minnesota Supreme Court case of State v. Ndikum, The Court noted that such statutes that do not require criminal intent are disfavored. Furthermore, where a statute does not specifically exclude criminal intent, then the State is required to prove knowledge of the criminal act with proof beyond a reasonable doubt before a Defendant may be convicted. Read below for a summary of this case and click here to read the entire opinion.
State v Ndikum (SUP CT, 07-11-2012, A10-1728, Hennepin Co)
Possession of Pistol, Elements, Knowing Possession, MS 624.714
Defendant is an attorney who lawfully purchased a pistol. As instructed, he only carried the pistol between office and home. However, one day he went to court and the pistol was in his briefcase.
At trial, the Defendant said he didn’t know the pistol was in the briefcase. The Defendant asked for a jury instruction that required the State to prove he had knowledge that the gun was in his briefcase when he brought the brief case to court.
The Trial court granted the jury instruction on the felony count, but refused to give the instruction on the gross misdemeanor count. After jury deliberations, the Defendant was found not guilty on the felony, but guilty on the gross misdemeanor count.
On appeal, the court of appeals reversed the conviction and the State appealed the reversal to the State Supreme Court. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the reversal of conviction. In their Opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court notes that offenses that do not require no mens rea are disfavored. (As a side note, Mens Rea means “guilty mind” Latin. In more common language, As an element of criminal responsibility, a guilty mind; a guilty or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent. Guilty knowledge and willfulness.) In making its decision, The Minnesota Supreme Court also notes that when a statute is silent as to mens rea, as the statute is here, that is not enough to not require mens rea as an element for the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.