by Michael J. Reitz
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
December 11, 2013
A concept rooted in centuries of American and English legal tradition is that the commission of a crime requires both a wrongful act and a culpable mental state. The wrongful act (actus reus in Latin) is the physical act committed by a person. The mental state (mens rea) is the person’s guilty state of mind when committing the act. Inadequate mens rea provisions result in a vague criminal code, creating the potential for inconsistent application. Given the erosion of the mens rea requirement, a number of states have adopted a default mens rea provision in their criminal code. The Michigan Legislature should expressly affirm the fundamental importance of mens rea and should adopt a default mens rea provision to apply to statutes that fail to clearly define the intent required for a criminal conviction.