mens rea (menz ree-<<schwa>>). [Law Latin “guilty mind”] The state of mind that the prosecution, to secure a conviction, must prove that a defendant had when committing a crime; criminal intent or recklessness <the mens rea for theft is the intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property>. • Mens rea is the second of two essential elements of every crime at common law, the other being the actus reus. — Also termed mental element; criminal intent; guilty mind. Pl. mentes reae (men-teez ree-ee). Cf. ACTUS REUS. [Cases: Criminal Law 20. C.J.S. Criminal
Law §§ 31–33, 35–39; Negligence § 913.]
“There are only two states of mind which constitute mens rea, and they are intention, and recklessness.” J.W. Cecil Turner, Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law 29–30 (16th ed. 1952).
“Most English lawyers would however now agree with Sir James Fitzjames Stephen that the expression mens rea is unfortunate, though too firmly established to be expelled, just because it misleadingly suggests that, in general, moral culpability is essential to a crime, and they would assent to the criticism expressed by a later judge that the true translation of mens rea is ‘an intention to do the act which is made penal by statute or by the common law.’ [Allard v. Selfridge, (1925) 1 K.B. at 137 (per Shearman, J.)].” H.L.A. Hart, “Legal Responsibility and Excuses,” in Punishment and Responsibility 28, 36 (1968).
“Some years ago the mens-rea doctrine was criticized on the ground that the Latin phrase is ‘misleading.’ If the words ‘mens rea’ were to be regarded as self-explanatory they would be open to this objection, but they are to be considered merely as a convenient label which may be attached to any psychical fact sufficient for criminal guilt (in connection with socially harmful conduct). This includes a field too complex for any brief self-explanatory phrase, and since it is important to have some sort of dialectic shorthand to express the idea, this time-honored label will do as well as any.” Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 826–27 (3d ed. 1982).
[Blacks Law 8th]