For an accused person to be prosecuted in a court of law, one of the requirements is for the prosecution to prove the state of mind that the accused was in when committing the crime. Every crime has a specific definition of the guilty state of mind, lawfully referred to as mens rea, required to convict a person of the crime (Badar, 2013). Ideally, there exist three states of mind which can separately or collaboratively constitute the necessary mens rea for a criminal offense. They include intention, negligence, and recklessness. In the Scottish criminal law, the mental element of an accused person is expressed with intention, knowledge, and recklessness. These are the only words, and their grammatical derivatives, allowed to be used to express the mental element in Scotland. The intent for commission or omission that translates to a criminal act has proved to be a concept that is difficult to define. Determining whether the accused intended the consequences of the act that constitutes the criminal offense can only be based on the evidence rendered at trial as well as from the jury charged by the trial judge (Coffey, 2009). This discussion aims at demonstrating the significance of the intention of an accused person as relates to the criminal law of Scotland as well as conduct a comparison between this intention and the persons reason for acting in a way that translates to a criminal offense.
Intention, as relates to criminal law, is of two types. These are direct and oblique intent. Intent is considered direct, also known as purpose intent, if the consequences of the persons actions were desired (Badar, 2013). On the other hand, oblique intent, also referred to as foresight intent, is considered in a situation where the consequence for the actions by the defendant is foreseen as being certain, and although not desired for its sake, the defendant proceeds with his actions anyway. According to the Law Commission Report of Scotland, a person is considered to be intending a particular result of his conduct if, but only if, he either intends that result or he lacks substantial doubt that the conduct will have that result.
The law provides a standard test of intention to determine whether the person intended the result or had no substantial doubt of the consequence of his conduct (Scottish Law Commission). Under this law, the intention is considered differently from motive. This is because a person can carry out an act that translates to a criminal offense but out of good motives. For instance, one may oblige to killing a loved one who is suffering from a terminal illness with the motive of relieving him from pain. The act of killing is a criminal offense, but it is done out a good motive, probably at the request of the victim. Therefore, in determining the reason behind a criminal act, there is need to separate intention with motive. It is on these grounds that a person can be convicted of an act that translates to a criminal offense or set free.
Intention in criminal law is of immense significance. This is because it can form the basis for a fault. Punishment as relates to intent is a core basis for criminal justice. Conviction of a certain crime conducted by the accused relies heavily on the intention behind the act. Depending on the degree by which an accused person is proved to have a guilty intention, the judgment will be made and punishment allotted. Compared to the other levels of mens rea, intention constitutes the highest degree of fault. A person with an intention to commit a crime having adequate knowledge of the consequences of his actions is said to be more culpable that one who acts out of recklessness or negligence. It is also on the grounds of determining the intention for conduct that a person can be given a verdict of not guilty if the evidence provided does not reach the threshold of a guilty intention as provided by the law.
Based on the evidence provided during a trial, the Scottish law provides for three possible verdicts. These are guilty, not guilty, and not proven. The not guilty and not proven verdict results in the accused being acquitted of the charges laid against him or her (Scottish Law Commission). On the other hand, a guilty verdict leads to a conviction of the accused and after that a determination by the judge of a punishment befitting the crime conducted. Scottish law is considered to be unique for providing the not proven verdict which is not provided in criminal laws of other countries. This verdict originated from a practice in which the judge would leave the jury to determine factual issues one after another and categorize them as either proven or not proven. The judge would then consider the proven facts to determine whether they contained sufficient evidence to pronounce guilt of the crime brought before the court. Presently, the jury decides on this question following legal advice from a judge, but still, the verdict exists. Often, the not proven verdict is translated to mean that there is a possibility that the accused is guilty of the offense, but there lacks enough proof to warrant a conviction.
As mentioned earlier, an act that results in a criminal offense does not necessarily translate to an intention to the resultant consequences. Some people have reasons that are far from intending to cause harm deliberately (Von Lingen, & Cribb, 2017). For instance, a person may seriously injure another person or even kill him in self-defense. The defendant may not have a prior intention to cause harm to the victim and the reason for causing injuries can be considered justifiable since they were not contemplated. There are many reasons why people do what they do, and these reasons are brought out during trials. However, these reasons need to be assessed based on the evidence provided and a determination made on whether they hold water or not. Ideally, an accused person will not admit to intentionally committing a crime, and this leaves the jury and the judge to carefully determine the case to ensure that justice is served.
If a persons reason for acting in a particular way that constitutes a criminal offense is known, it follows that the reason is measured on the threshold of intention from which a conviction or lack of it can be made. In some cases, the reasons given during trials, coupled with the proof provided will directly infer to a guilty intention. The determination is strictly based on the definitions provided by the law (Bantekas & Nash, 2009). Some reasons for a criminal conduct are pure without a malicious intention, but the consequences thereof make the accused guilty of the offense. For instance, a person who hits a police officer as he speeds to escape arrest may have a reason that does not implicate his intention to cause harm, but will still be convicted based on the fact that he should have foreseen the consequence of his actions. This is to mean that the reason for carrying out a certain act that translates to a criminal offence is superseded by the intention, whether direct or oblique. The reason may be well intended but the consequence, if known to the defendant before conducting it, determines whether one is acquitted or convicted.
In summary, intention is one of the three states of mind that constitutes the necessary mens rea for a criminal offense. This is in addition to knowledge and recklessness in Scottish criminal law. Intention can either be direct in which actions are desired or oblique in which the consequences for the action are foreseen, and the defendant goes ahead with the action even though the action is not desired. The determination of the guilty state of mind is based on the legal definition of intention. From this definition, coupled with the evidence provided during a trial, the Scottish legal system provides for three kinds of verdicts, that is, guilty, not guilty, and not proven. A not proven verdict is given when there lacks enough proof to convict the accused although all possibilities point to him being guilty. Intention is different from reason or the motive for conducting a certain action. These two terms are separated in the legal definition. While a person may undertake a criminal act, the motive is not always malicious. The differences in definition and effect are taken into consideration when giving verdicts.
Badar, M. E. (2013). The concept of mens rea in international criminal law: the case for a unified approach. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Bantekas, I., & Nash, S. (2009). International criminal law. Routledge.
Coffey, G. (2009). Codifying the Meaning of Intention in the Criminal Law. The Journal of Criminal Law, 73(5), 394-413.
Scottish Law Commission: THE MENTAL ELEMENT IN CRIME REPORT ON A REFERENCE UNDER SECTION 3(l) (e) OF THE LAW COMMISSIONS ACT 1965
https://www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/files/4712/7989/7412/rep80.pdfVon Lingen, K., & Cribb, R. (2017). War Crimes Trials in Asia: Collaboration and Complicity in the Aftermath of War. In Debating Collaboration and Complicity in War Crimes Trials in Asia, 1945-1956 (pp. 1-18). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
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