It is a basic concept in criminal law that a crime cannot be committed except when overt acts coincide with a criminal state of mind. But what, indeed, is a criminal state of mind?
It involves a mental process by which a person decides to act. It also involves a decision to act in a certain way to bring about an intended result. From this description, it is clear that an overt act cannot be predicated upon inadvertence, misapprehension or mistake.
Instead, a state of mind that shows guilt is one that takes the knowledge that the act one has decided to do is, in fact, wrong and contrary to law and despite this, the person persists in carrying out the intended act to bring about the intended result.
A criminal state of mind is intent to commit the crime. For instance, a person shows his criminal intent to kill another when he took pains to surprise the victim, catching him unaware and unable to defend himself.
The crime may have been committed in an uninhabited place to ensure that no one will be around to help the victim. After he killed the victim, he buried the victim in a shallow grave, covering the area with dried leaves to prevent discovery of the killing. All these acts show that the accused decided to kill the victim; he planned his moves to ensure success in killing the victim and in hiding his guilt. All these circumstances lead us to conclude that the accused had a criminal state of mind when he committed the overt act of killing the victim.
When a person does overt acts, not only must he have the intention to produce a certain result from the overt acts, but that the overt acts he chooses to do shows knowledge that the overt acts will bring about the intended result.
For instance, giving a child a cupful of cleaning solution for silver jewellery is an overt act that will bring about the child’s death. The silver cleaning solution is colourless, odourless and tasteless, just like water. If the person who gave the cleaning solution to the child did not know that the liquid in the cup was cleaning solution and if he did not know that silver cleaning solution is fatal to a child, then there may not be any criminal intent.
However, if it is shown that the person bought the cleaning solution and on the label, it clearly states to keep it out of reach of children as it is fatal to them if ingested, and despite this, he still knowingly and willingly poured it into the child’s cup and gave it to the child to drink, then the intent to kill the child is evident. The knowledge about the fatal effect of the cleaning solution on the child is part of the criminal state of mind.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.