Actus Reus

September 16, 2008

ACTUS REUS – n. Law action or conduct which is a constituent element of a crime, as opposed to the mental state of the accused.  Compare with MENS REA.

This is a fascinating term that I learned about in a few of my classes at university.  The distinction between actus reus and mens rea can be quite significant in criminal cases.  One example that comes to mind is the assassination of Harvey Milk and the “Twinkie Defense.”  I was actually just reading about this the other day.  You should look it up on your own, too, but the quick rundown is that there was no doubt that Dan White had shot and killed Harvey Milk and George Moscone (the ACTUS REUS) but the Twinkie Defense was intended to cast doubt on whether the conditions of MENS REA were met at the time of the crime, which would therefore result in a less harsh punishment.  The defense actually succeeded in reducing the crime from murder to voluntary manslaughter (not one of the American justice system’s finest hours).  But interesting, no?  Read about it.

Also, check out this fake trailer for a movie called Actus Reus.  Best acting ever!  Made me laugh.


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