For most criminal offenses, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had a culpable mental state (mens rea) to obtain a conviction. In other words, the person acted intentionally, negligently, recklessly, or knowingly, depending on the crime. However, strict liability crimes do not require proving the defendant’s mental state to obtain a conviction.
We often hear strict liability in reference to personal injury cases. It is the theory that a party can be held liable for damages, regardless of the party’s lack of intent or negligence.
In a criminal case, strict liability is similar. A person can be convicted of a crime even though the person did not intend to or knowingly commit the crime. It is the absence of mens rea or a culpable mental state.
Arizona Revised Statute §13-202 states that a criminal offense that does not have a statute expressly prescribing a culpable mental state for the commission of the crime is an offense of strict liability. However, an exception exists for offenses involving conduct that necessarily involves a culpable mental state.
In other words, some criminal offenses do not require that a person has any specific mental state to be convicted of the crime. The law punishes the criminal conduct, regardless of what the defendant might or might not have been thinking or intending to do when they committed the crime.
Examples of strict liability crimes in Arizona include, but are not limited to:
Strict liability offenses typically only apply when there is a clear legislative intent not to require any mental state for the commission of a crime. Courts have ruled that, in some cases, the appropriate mental state can be implied if a statute fails to specify a mental state.
It is important to seek legal advice from an experienced Phoenix criminal defense lawyer if you face a strict liability crime. There could be precedent set by court decisions implying a mental state for the crime. A lawyer understands the legal requirement for a conviction and the potential defenses you can use.
Even though you could be found guilty of a strict liability crime without the prosecution proving your mental state, you still have the right to defend yourself in court. One or more legal defenses could result in a dismissal of charges or an acquittal.
Potential defenses to strict liability crimes include:
The prosecution may not need to prove your mental state, but it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the criminal offense. Your defense attorney can attack and challenge the evidence presented by the prosecutor. Giving the jury an alternative explanation for how the crime occurred can raise reasonable doubt for an acquittal.
It might not have been you that committed the crime. Mistaken identity can be used together with an alibi to argue that the police made a mistake and arrested the wrong person. A defense lawyer may also be able to raise doubts about identity when cross-examining eyewitnesses.
The judge might dismiss your case if the police officers lacked probable cause for an arrest or a search. Alternatively, the judge could declare that specific evidence is inadmissible in court. Without that evidence, the prosecution might not be able to meet its burden of proof for a conviction.
Depending on the criminal charge, you could face a felony or a misdemeanor offense. Misdemeanor offenses can result in up to one year in county jail, while felonies result in state prison sentences. Therefore, it is crucial that you take steps to protect your legal rights and prepare for a defense.
If the police arrest you for a crime, stop talking. The urge to tell your side of the story or explain how you are innocent can be overwhelming. However, talking to the prosecutor or law enforcement officers without a criminal defense lawyer present and representing you could hurt your chances of winning your criminal case.
Therefore, exercise your right to remain silent. Even if the officers tell you that you look guilty by not talking or that they can help you if you cooperate, continue to remain silent.
Contact our Phoenix criminal defense attorney for a free consultation as soon as possible. The quicker we investigate the criminal charges against you, the better prepared we are to defend you in court.
We can help you present the best possible defense to fight criminal charges. Contact our law firm Orent Law Offices,PLC to schedule a free consultation with our Phoenix criminal defense attorney at (480) 6656-7301. Your consultation is confidential.