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ACTUS REUS

actus reus (ak-t<<schwa>>s ree-<<schwa>>s alsoray-<<schwa>>s). [Law Latin “guilty act”]

The wrongful deed that comprises the physical components of a crime and that generally must be

coupled with mens rea to establish criminal liability; a forbidden act <the actus reus for theft is the

taking of or unlawful control over property without the owner’s consent>. — Also termed deed of

crime;  overt  act.  Cf.  MENS  REA.  [Cases:  Criminal  Law    26.C.J.S.  Criminal  Law  §§  44–45,

1110.]

“The word actus connotes a ‘deed,’ a physical result of human conduct. When criminal policy

regards such a  deed as sufficiently  harmful it prohibits it and seeks to prevent its  occurrence by

imposing a penalty for its commission. It has long been the custom of lawyers to describe a deed

so  prohibited by law in the words actus reus. Thus actus reus may be  defined as ‘Such result of

human conduct as the law seeks to prevent.’ It is important to note that the actus reus, which is the

result of conduct, and therefore an event, must be distinguished from the conduct which produced

the result. For example, in a simple case of murder it is the victim’s death (brought about by the

conduct of the murderer) which is the actus reus; the mens rea is the murderer’s intention to cause

that  death.  In  other  words,  the  crime  is  constituted  by  the  event,  and  not  by  the  activity  (or  in

certain cases, as we shall see, by the omission to act) which caused the event.” J.W. Cecil Turner,

Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law 13 (16th ed. 1952).

“The phrase ‘deed of crime’ [= actus reus] as so  used  does not indicate the crime itself but

merely one of the ingredients of crime; and this ingredient may be present without any crime at all,

just as hydrogen is one of the ingredients of water but may be present without water. The words

‘deed of crime’ are so suggesting of the crime itself, however, that perhaps the Latin phrase ‘actus

reus’ is less likely to cause confusion. The actus reus is es-sential to crime but is not sufficient for

this  purpose  without  the  necessary  mens  rea,  just  as  mens  rea  is  essential  to  crime  but  is

insufficient  without  the  necessary  actus reus.”  Rollin  M.  Perkins  & Ronald  N.  Boyce, Criminal

Law 831 (3d ed. 1982). [Blacks Law 8th]