Culpable Mental States
Since the introduction of common law in the English speaking world crimes have usually required an intent by the defendant to commit a crime. You could not be convicted of a crime you did not intend to commit. You could not accidentally murder someone. You could not mistakenly cause an assault. You could not trip into a rape. Common law has always required the King or the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed and the defendant meant to do it.
Things have changed over the years…
Under Utah criminal law today every crime requires a “culpable mental state” but what is considered a culpable mental state now includes not only intentionally committing a crime but also committing a crime with knowledge, with recklessness or negligently. Thus, you can recklessly commit an aggravated assault. What this means is that certain defenses such as voluntary intoxication are not available. So, if you go out, get drunk to the point of passing out but hit somebody over the head with a beer bottle you can be convicted of a felony offense and actually go to prison.
Strict Liability Offenses
Since common law states and countries have moved more and more toward codifying all of their laws, strict liability crimes have emerged. Strict liability means that you are guilty of the crime if it was committed, period. It does not matter if you did not mean to commit the crime. It does not matter if you did not intend to commit the crime. If you did it, you are guilty.
Some strict liability crimes include traffic offenses such as speeding, wrecking into another car, and other traffic offenses. Strict liability turns common law on its head, but we’re stuck with it now through various Utah statutes.
We are Utah criminal defense lawyers and provide these informative blog posts in the hopes that we can help you protect yourself.