“Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea”
Are crimes always determinable in accordance with the criminal intent? Let us discuss it. It is true that some crimes can be determined by the criminal intent of the perpetrator.
There are instances that the perpetrator does not intend to commit a crime due to mistake of facts and sometimes, such is not liable. But let us talk about first the word “Crime”. In Criminal Law, there are three classes of crimes which are the following:
1] Intentional felonies;
2] Culpable felonies; and
3] Crimes which are punished by special laws.
In the Revised Penal Code, a felony may be committed through malice or fault. It states in Article 3 thereof that acts and omissions punishable by law are felonies (delitos).
Felonies are committed not only by means of deceit (dolo) but also by means of fault (culpa). There is deceit when the act is performed with deliberate intent; and there is fault when the wrongful act results from imprudence, negligence, lack of foresight, or lack of skill.
These classes of crimes are punishable under the Revised Penal Code.
Basically, under the Revised Penal Code, criminal intent is also an element to be liable of a felony. Examples of criminal intent are:
1] Intent to kill
3] Intent to defraud
On other hand, the other class of crime are those punishable under the special laws. Special laws are part of the criminal law in which criminal intent is not really necessary.
It is enough that the act which is punishable under such special law is committed by the perpetrator whether or not he has a criminal intent. While there may have been no criminal intent, the intent to perpetrate the commission of the act is present.
Thus, those crimes punished under special laws, the acts itself which are prohibited, irrespective of whether the motive or criminal intent exists, constitutes an offense.
Absence of criminal intent does not constitute a valid defense in those crimes punishable under special laws. This is so because, being a mala prohibita offense, intent to perpetrate the crime is sufficient.
What does “no criminal intent” mean?
“No criminal intent” means that the supposed perpetrator of the crime or acts punished by the Revised Penal Code or special laws committed the same in good faith or without malice.
It also means that a person who committed any act whether or not it constitutes a crime performed such act without a conscious decision to intentionally violate a law or commit a crime. Meaning to say, he is fully aware of his actions that such are wrongful or punishable by law.
For example, a person who is ignorant of the law punishing illegal possession of firearms or “An Act providing for a Comprehensive Law on Firearms and Ammunition and Providing Penalties for Violations thereof” and for some reason, he is unaware that it is illegal to buy a firearm without license or permit to possess the same.
Yet, he did it anyway for his protection and without intending to commit any criminal act. He does not intend to violate the law. He merely wants to possess a firearm for his protection.
Is he still liable for illegal possession of firearm given the fact that he has no criminal intent? It shall be so. He is still accountable and must be punished under the afore-mentioned law.
Is there a crime without criminal intent, explain? Do you have to always prove criminal intent?
There are crimes without intent, one of which is the above-mentioned law, just discussed. Nevertheless, let us have another situation where mere act without regard to the presence of criminal intent is already punishable under the law.
Take for instance, illegal possession of dangerous drugs. Jurisprudence provides for its elements to warrant the conviction of the perpetrator. These are the following:
1] the accused is in possession of an item or object identified as a prohibited drug;
2] such possession is not authorized by law; and
3] the accused freely and consciously possesses the said drug.
In the event that the accused will provide an alibi that it has only been given to him. According to him, he has no intent to use it or to violate the law.
He is still liable the moment that he is fully aware that he possesses such prohibited drug. Sometimes, intent in a criminal case must be proved to determine the gravity of the liability of the accused.
However, there are also times that criminal intent is not relevant in the case, especially in mala prohibita, as mentioned above. It is enough that the act which is punishable or prohibited is perpetrated.
How do you prove intent?
Most of the time, if the act constitutes a crime, criminal intent is presumed in accordance with the jurisprudence and the previous experiences of the Court.
Despite that, criminal intent may be proved based on the relevant and preparatory acts of the offender in perpetrating the crime. Intent may also be established through the circumstantial evidence in executing the crime.
The different circumstances and relevant facts existed in the commission of the crime can be utilized in order to come up with a specific conclusion and reasoning of whether or not a criminal intent is present when the wrongful act was committed.
Intent may also be proven by the testimonies of the witnesses if there are any. Such collective statements can be used in proving whether the criminal intent is present or not.
Although the accused will not admit the crime, the pieces of evidence presented to court will not lie and will eventually show the truth.
Proving intent, however, is essential to point out who the possible culprits are. It is also important to determine the criminal liability of the accused, whether such liability is graver or lighter depending on the circumstances and facts presented.
Is criminal intent hard to prove?
Intent is somehow hard to prove because it is very rare for the culprit to admit their criminal acts. They will try really hard to twist the facts so that they will not be found guilty of the crime charged.
It is difficult to prove “mens rea” mainly because, most of the time, it is only the culprit or the defendant who knows if it present or not, and the Court cannot just guess or decide a decision without strong and legal basis.
The most important element of criminal intent is sealed in the mind of the culprit which leads to the difficulty of proving such. Normally, the direct way to prove intent is to make the perpetrator confess the crime and his intention why he committed the same.
Yet, the State cannot easily obtain such confession because it will constitute a violation of the right to self-incrimination, a guaranteed fundamental and constitutional right.
Another thing which makes it difficult to prove criminal intent is that the witnesses who are able to learn or find out the criminal intent of the accused are sometimes not allowed to testify as regards to that basically because the Rules of Court does not allow hearsay.
Is intent to commit a crime enough to convict?
Criminal intent is not enough to convict a defendant. Proving criminal intent does not mean that the defendant really committed the crime. It may be true that the defendant has a criminal intent to kill the offended party.
In spite of that, it does not necessarily follow that such defendant really has killed the deceased, because of such intent, much less prove such fact.
There is still a doubt or a possibility that other person has killed the offended party, and it just so happened that the defendant has the same intent to do it.
What the Court needs to convict the defendant is a proof beyond reasonable doubt. There must be sufficient evidence that the defendant is guilty without the privilege of giving any reasonable doubt in his favor.
It is important that court shall prove that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt in order to avoid convicting an innocent individual of any crime.
On the other hand, even without such criminal intent, a person may be convicted of a crime under special laws or felonies due to fault or negligence.
What has been decided
Basically, intent to commit a crime may not only be element needed to be proved to convict a person of the crime but can be helpful to solve the case and to determine the real culprit.
“To warrant a conviction under the aforecited provision for theft of damaged property, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable that the accused maliciously damaged the property belonging to another and, thereafter, removed or used the fruits or object thereof, with intent to gain. Evidently, theft of damaged property is an intentional felony for which criminal liability attaches only when it is shown that the malefactor acted with criminal intent or malice. Criminal intent must be clearly established with the other elements of the crime; otherwise, no crime is committed.”1
“If what is proven is mere judgmental error on the part of the person committing the act, no malice or criminal intent can be rightfully imputed to him. Ordinarily, evil intent must unite with an unlawful act for a crime to exist. Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea.2
“There can be no crime when the criminal mind is wanting. As a general rule, ignorance or mistake as to particular facts, honest and real, will exempt the doer from felonious responsibility. The exception of course is neglect in the discharge of duty or indifference to consequences, which is equivalent to criminal intent, for in this instance, the element of malicious intent is supplied by the element of negligence and imprudence.”3
“Criminal intent as well as the will to commit a crime are always presumed to exist on the part of the person who executes an act which the law punishes, unless the contrary shall appear.4
A crime is indeed broad and committing one constitutes criminal intent as a presumption unless the contrary of such is present.
Intent is something that is so difficult to prove but it makes the case easier to solve. Criminal intent can either be general or specific.
Our Revised Penal Code and special laws, as well, serve as our foundation and precepts, as the Rules of Court which are our guidelines in order to properly prosecute crimes, thereby, promoting justice at all cost.
Criminal intent may not be present in every criminal act. Nonetheless, indeed, everyone should be held liable for every violation of criminal statute, whether there is criminal intent or none.
- Magsumbol vs. people, GR No. 207175, November 26, 2014
- US vs. Apostol, GR No. 5126, September 2, 1909