Mental State During a Criminal Act

Naperville criminal defense attorney, criminal actA Virginia college student was killed by a hammer in a recent track and field event, according to the BBC. However, the person who threw the hammer is not facing criminal charges. This begs the question, if a crime is not determinant solely on outcome, what else is at play?

For many crimes, in order for an individual to be found guilty, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was in a certain mental state during the criminal act. For example, if a grocery shopper went through the checkout line and paid for all of his or her items, except the groceries stored underneath in the bottom portion of the cart, and then walked the cart out without paying for those items, the defense could reason that a theft offense should not be charged because the act was unintentional.

An example of when a theft would likely succeed is if the shopper had lined his or her coat pockets, walked out the door without paying, and also proceeded to flee security outside the store in the parking lot. Intent would be much easier for the prosecution to prove in the latter scenario.

However, intent is not the only mental state that can result in a guilty criminal charge. The defendant must be proven to have displayed at least one of the following elements of mind during the crime to be found guilty, according to 720 ILCS 5/4-1.


Intent is the act of attempting to accomplish a specific goal or outcome. The defendant’s conscious objective was to carry out the act.


The person has knowledge that his or her actions are against the law, or that his or her actions are practically certain to result in a criminal act. The act was also performed willingly and intentionally.


The defendant acts in a way that displays wanton disregard for the safety of others. A reckless act is one that has unjustifiable risk and that could likely cause serious bodily injury or death to another party.


An act of negligence is one step below recklessness. A person acts negligently when he or she fails to be aware of substantial or unjustifiable risk, and the action deviates from the standard of care that a reasonable person would abide by in that particular situation.

Intent is Not Necessary to be Charged with an Offense of Absolute Liability

Without at least one element of intent, knowledge, recklessness, or negligence, an individual is not guilty of an offense. However, this does not apply to an offense of strict or absolute liability. An offense of absolute or strict liability is one that does not depend on intent. For example, if you went through a stop sign and killed a pedestrian, the court only needs to prove that you did the act, not that you intended to kill the pedestrian or even that you were driving recklessly. However, if it is found that you did have intent or were driving under the influence of alcohol, the charges would likely be increased.

Call a Naperville Criminal Defense Attorney

Reach out to one of the passionate Naperville criminal defense attorneys with Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC today for immediate criminal defense. We are eager to assist you with your case today.