Delinquency adjudications and criminal convictions of minors who have been transferred to Superior Court for trial as adults both require that the elements of the offense charged are proved beyond a reasonable doubt, including that the required criminal state of mind, or mens rea, existed. The adolescent mind has been the subject of substantial scientific research. This research grounded several United State Supreme Court decisions related to criminal punishment of minors and when Miranda warnings are necessary. However, the question of how the science of adolescent brain development does or does not connect to the mens rea requirements of various offenses is not well litigated. The North Carolina Court of Appeals dipped a toe in this area in its recent ruling in State v. Smith, __ N.C. App. __ (June 6, 2023).
When a defendant is charged with a crime involving the possession of a controlled substance, what kind of knowledge or intent must the prosecution show? Must the state prove that the defendant knew that he or she possessed the substance? That the defendant knew that the substance was legally controlled? That the defendant knew the particular identity of the substance? Given the proliferation of controlled substances and the fact that many cannot be distinguished without laboratory equipment, these are important questions.
An ancient maxim of the law is ignorantia juris non excusat, or ignorance of the law does not excuse. Put another way, it is presumed that the public knows the laws, and a defense of ignorance is typically not allowed. This principle is at the heart of the recent decision by the state supreme court in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. ___, (June 9, 2017).
In prior posts, I discussed transferred intent and criminal negligence. Intent and criminal negligence, along with malice and willfulness are some of the common states of mind that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a criminal conviction. With strict liability crimes, the prosecution’s case is easier. Strict liability crimes do not … Read more
Criminal negligence (sometimes called culpable negligence) means recklessness or carelessness that shows a thoughtless disregard of consequences or a heedless indifference to the safety and rights of others. State v. Jones, 353 N.C. 159 (2000); State v. Early, 232 N.C. 717, 720 (1950). The showing required to establish criminal negligence is less than the level … Read more
Suppose a defendant acts intending to do one thing but ends up doing something else. For example, suppose the defendant shoots at A, intending to kill A, but misses and kills B, an innocent bystander. Is the defendant criminally liable for the unintended harm to B? Under the doctrine of transferred intent, the answer is … Read more