During a murder investigation, it is impossible to perform effectively without the evaluation of criminal law and criminological characteristics of crimes. The criminal legal description of the murder allows defining the subject of proof and the criminological characteristics of crimes, as well as determining the method of the investigation. Murder is wrongful infliction of death to another person. Life is a natural human right, which is protected by the criminal law. The legislator equally protects the life of any person, regardless of age, the state of health, vitality, physical and moral qualities from the beginning of birth to the moment of natural death. The human right to life is the direct object of the crime. These days, despite our living in the modern world of the 21st century, murder is considered one of the most widespread crimes in criminal law. In such a way, it is highly important to be able to define exactly and with the sufficient amount of evidence whether a person is guilty of murder. It is an extremely difficult task as it is necessary to examine all the elements of crime in criminal law. These factors include actus reus, mens rea, concurrence and causation. Without careful studying of the whole scope of the elements of crime in criminal law, it is impossible to further establish if a person is guilty of murder or not. As it can be inferred from the aforementioned information, the purpose of the paper is to study such significant aspects of crime as actus reus, mens rea, concurrence and causation.
The Concepts of Actus Reus and Mens Rea
Actus reus is a set of external signs of criminal behavior of the person that characterize the part of a socially dangerous deed, which manifests itself in objective reality and is described in the criminal law as illegal. These largely include socially dangerous action (action or inaction), socially dangerous consequences, the causal relationship between the socially dangerous act and socially dangerous consequences, a place, a method, time, the instruments and means of committing the crime, and lastly the situation of the crime.
Actus reus can be the main constituent of a certain crime. In the book Complete Criminal Law, it is noted that “actus reus of murder is the unlawful killing of a human being” (Loveless 2014, p. 43). Actus reus of murder is characterized by three main features, such as an act, consequences, and a causal link between the act and the consequence. An act is the behavior of the perpetrator, which is expressed by the effect on the human body resulting in the destruction of the body (death). Depending on which power a perpetrator uses, it can be divided into a direct and indirect murder execution. The use of the direct execution consists in using the muscle strength of the perpetrator to cause mortem. The utilization of the indirect murder execution is revealed in the application of different tools that can help during the murder, such as vehicles, firearms, animals, as well as other people. It should be noted that actus reus of the murder is characterized by voluntariness. Only if a person acts in accordance to their free will, this action can be regarded as an intended murder. It is extremely important to prove that a person has done his/her acts voluntary. Otherwise, there is no be actus reus.
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Mens rea is regarded as the collection of peculiarities characterizing the mental attitude of the person towards the socially dangerous deed done by them, as well as the accompanying consequences of this deed. Along with actus reus, it is a mandatory element of any crime. Its absence eliminates the existence of a crime and the exact setting ensures the correct qualifications of a particular act and, as a consequence, lawful and justified responsibility of the culprit. Besides, mens rea is the most crucial aspect for the distinction between crimes. The content of the subjective side of the crime is revealed with the help of such legal signs as motive, purpose and fault.
It should be taken into consideration that the mens rea of the murder is characterized by intention. Murder can be committed with both the indirect or direct intention. The direct intention of the murder differs from the indirect one by the intellectual and volitional content. In the direct intention, a murderer foresees the inevitability of death and wishes its approach. However, in the indirect intention, a murderer foresees only a possibility of the approach of death and does not want to apply it, though consciously admits its occurrence or refers to it indifferently.
The methods of investigation of the murder cover the implication of complex actions allowing the investigators to find out whether death was caused as a result of violent actions or a person died as a result of natural causes, suicide or accident. If it was proved that the person was killed and the assumed suspected person was found, it is still highly difficult to prove that the actions were committed intentionally.
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To better understand the concept of mens rea in general and intention particularly, it is necessary to study a certain criminal case. In 2015, a man without a permanent place of residence committed the murder of the pensioner. The suspected person confessed to the murder. Nevertheless, he claimed that it was not the murder committed with intention. Initially, he only wanted to commit robbery. However, in the course of the robbery he hit an old man with the lever of the pneumatic pistol too strongly. As a result, he provoked a head injury that subsequently caused a brain hemorrhage and later death. Thus, according to the suspected, it was the unintentional murder and he deserves weaker punishment. For prosecutors, it is really very difficult to prove whether it was the intentional murder or not. Mens rea of this particular case definitely includes the guilt of the suspected person. However, this murder can be characterized by the indirect intention as well.
Causation in Fact, Causation in Law, and Omission
Causation is considered an integral part of actus reus. It can specifically establish whether a person is guilty of murder or not. There are two types of causations in the criminal law – causation in fact and in law respectively. The causation in fact is also caused a “but for” test and is rather easy to establish. A “but for” test means that it is necessary to ask a question whether with certain deeds of the defendant, the result and the consequence would still have occurred. If the answer is positive, a person is not liable. However, if the answer is negative, a person is liable. Nevertheless, not in all cases the answer is clear. Thus, there is a necessity to apply the causation in law. According to the legal causation, the harm and death must occur from the culpable deed.
As it has already been mentioned, the basis of each crime is defined by a socially dangerous action or inaction, frequently by a set of certain actions. In the prevailing majority of cases, the murder is committed by socially dangerous actions aimed at the disruption of functions or the anatomical integrity of the vital organs of another person. However, there are also the cases when the murder is committed by omission. The murder by omission may occur only when the offender was obliged to take care of the victim and when she/she should and could perform certain actions that could prevent the death of the person but disregarded doing so.
Life is the greatest value that belongs to each person. When the perpetrator deprives another person of this value, the crime is supposed to be punished more severely than other crimes. Every crime, and murder in particular, is characterized by the peculiar elements of crime. Actus reus and mens rea are the inseparable parts of any murder. If one of them is absent, a person is guiltless. Consequently, it is extremely significant to carefully investigate every murder case to properly identify and establish all the basic elements of crime.