Applying Law Concepts To A Case Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Sports Type: Essay Paper: #81631235 Related Topics: Hypothetical, Endangered Species, Supreme Court Case, Stealing
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … hypothetical criminal case, and deal with the following concepts in relation to it: mens rea, actus reus, mistake of law, and mistake of fact. It will present arguments in defense of the client (to prove why he mustn't be prosecuted), and vice versa. Lastly, the paper will also debate on how this particular case ought to be judged.

Case Background/Hypothetical

Johnny Juneau, a recluse aged 57 who resided in a hut in the forest, led an ordinary life. The kindly and good-hearted Johnny, however, had a highly mistaken outlook of life. All his friends deemed him to be retarded; Juneau last had a job in the year 1978, from which he was dismissed when he fixed the oven, in the restaurant wherein he was serving as a waiter, to spurt flames 12 feet high. Juneau claimed to be only helping, as he felt his workplace's efficiency would increase with a more powerful oven. What he ended up achieving was: burning 4 city blocks to the ground and singeing off the mayor's characteristic handlebar mustache for good.

One fine day, Juneau loaded swamp creatures onto his old truck (which was 40 years old, with barely 7,000 miles remaining on it) and rode off to the town nearest his forest retreat -- Gatorville. The residents of Gatorville were always excited whenever Juneau decided to show up, as he always did something unpredictable and unexpected. On the day in question, he had decided to barter his swamp creatures with them, for beer and gas. He pulled in to the town's gas station and that's where the problems began. Previously, in 2001, when Juneau had visited Gatorville, gas prices were 1.40 dollars a gallon; but today, the sign showed 4.42 dollars a gallon. Juneau looked at it, unable to grasp the price. Thinking something was wrong with the sign, he decided to fix it for the townspeople, borrowing the neighbor's ladder and changing the "4" to "1"; the sign, consequently, read $1.42. He thought gas prices had increased by 2 cents since his previous visit. While he was descending the ladder, it touched an un-insulated portion of the signboard of the station, without his knowledge, thereby becoming electrified. Johnny, by no means, could have expected such a thing to happen. He left the ladder as it was and ambled into the store for bartering six nutria he had caught in exchange for 6 gallons of gas (nutria are small swampland rodents). The previous time he had decided to keep tabs on civilization, the creatures were worth around 2 dollars a pound. But recently, the government learnt that nutria meat possessed magical properties; consequently, the creatures were classified under 'endangered species' and even the act of having nutria in one's possession was regarded a capital offense. The shocked storekeeper, despite knowing Juneau, remarked that he couldn't bring in nutria, and proceeded to notify the police.

The police did, in fact, arrive to arrest Juneau. While he was being shoved into the police van, the neighbor arrived, demanding to know why his ladder was propped up at the gas station. Juneau truthfully stated that he borrowed it, and the neighbor could now take it back. On touching the electrified ladder, the neighbor got electrocuted. Finally, before leaving the gas station, the police deputy filled gas into her van, thinking it to be priced at 1.42 dollars a gallon. Upon being quoted the actual price by the store keeper, the deputy was unwilling to pay the extra dollars from what was written by Juneau on the signboard. The store keeper got angry, accusing Juneau of theft, for giving away his gas. Finally, Juneau was charged with three offenses - possessing nutria, the neighbor's murder, and gas theft.


Almost all crimes possess two elements: actus reus (the action or the criminal act) and mens rea (intent). Action as well as the intent behind it is typically needed for judging an individual guilty of any offense, as per the doctrines of American criminal law. Actus Reus, the Latin word for 'guilty act' implies that there should be physical movement (an action); i.e., visible physical action is what makes an individual liable for any crime. This condition is necessary according to U.S. laws, for crime commission, as nobody can be proven guilty and charged with wishing for a crime to occur or having criminal ideas in their


A majority of crimes also need the criterion 'mens rea' (meaning 'guilty mind', in Latin); i.e., what the suspect was thinking as well as what was his/her intention at the time of crime commission, is of significance (Mens Rea - A Defendant's Mental State -- FindLaw, n.d.; WiseGEEK, n.d.). U.S. criminal justice system, via mens rea, can distinguish unintentional offense from one that was intended by the defendant.

When considering the two elements of mens rea and actus reus, Juneau isn't, in fact, guilty. He cannot be accused of murder as he had not the slightest clue that the propped-up ladder would get electrified, thus electrocuting anyone who happened to touch it -- in this case, its owner. Both the above elements imply that Juneau meant to get the neighbor killed, because of him telling the owner to take back his ladder. The defendant, however, didn't know that it was electrified; he merely meant to say that his work with the ladder was done, and it was being returned to the owner. There clearly is no motive for murder here.

The concept of 'mistake of law' denotes errors which an individual may make while grasping how appropriate law is relevant to previous activity under court analysis (Singer and La Fond, 2007). On the other hand, the concept of 'mistake of fact' can be explained as: though an individual may have enacted specific physical elements of a particular crime, it was being committed under mistake of fact -- thus, mens rea. They can, as a result, escape liability. In Johnny Juneau's case, this defensive approach can mostly certainly be adopted. When perceiving the price of gas, Juneau failed to understand that it had escalated by such a degree since his last trip to town. He was, in fact, of the view that he was doing a helpful deed, by fixing the board; stealing did not cross his mind. Juneau is, in a sense, himself a victim.

Prosecutor Side/Neighbor/Gas Store Owner

Conventionally, strict criminal liability connotes criminal liability which requires no possession of a blameworthy mindset by the defendant. Contemporary criminal codes characteristically include as probable blameworthy mindsets the intent of the defendant to cause a prohibited outcome, the understanding that this outcome will ensue or that some prohibited situation will come into existence, the recklessness linked with the situation or outcome, or defendant's negligence regarding the outcome or situation (Simmons, 1997). Subsequently, strict criminal liability denotes mere liability without intent, belief, neglect or thoughtlessness. Therefore, prosecution will take up full charges for possessing nutria, which denotes strict liability. The neighbor's death allows prosecution to take up charges of manslaughter; defense can claim that defendant never intended to kill, in spite of occurrence of death. Lastly, prosecution will take up full count with regards to accusation of gasoline theft, unless defense is able to prove otherwise.

One can understand the store keeper's distress, and the fact that he would demand compensation for his financial losses as well as apparent theft (Writer Thoughts). The deceased neighbor's family would seek justice for him, which must be accorded.

Judge Resolution

Sometimes, there is a thin line which divides acquittals and dismissals for dual jeopardy; it segregates two trial results having glaringly opposing consequences: total freedom and re-prosecution with possible incarceration (Rappaport, 2005). While traversing this divide between dismissal and acquittal, the U.S. Supreme Court frequently avoids a formalistic slant, and instead decides upon a functional investigation, disregarding labels and dividing the cases settled on merits (i.e., true acquittals) and on grounds unconnected with innocence or guilt.

If I happened to be judging the aforementioned case, approach to the case and ruling would be as follows: Before trial, both involved parties ought to have gotten the charges handled. With respect to the accusation of murder, I would, after seeing evidence and hearing defense claims, have considered it to be accidental manslaughter, and not sentenced the defendant as guilty of murder (Writer Thoughts). As regards the accusation of gasoline theft, I would make sure to dismiss charges, since the defendant couldn't comprehend the price in the least, as is proven by defendant's evidence. However, the gas store owner ought to be compensated, in some or other way, for his monetary loss (Writer Thoughts). The court session would discuss this issue. Nutria possession charges pose the greatest difficulty in ruling. Although it was strict liability, Juneau didn't know the law, and defense has proven Juneau's incapability with regard to his actions' legalities. I would, thus, dismiss the charges of nutria possession.


(n.d.). Criminal Law - FindLaw. Mens Rea - A Defendant's Mental State - FindLaw. Retrieved…

Sources Used in Documents:


(n.d.). Criminal Law - FindLaw. Mens Rea - A Defendant's Mental State - FindLaw. Retrieved September 24, 2015, from

Rappaport, J. (2005). First Circuit Upholds Reprosecution of Defendant Acquitted in ' Sham ' Trial. Harvard Law Review, 118. Retrieved, from

Simmons, K. (1997). When is Strict Criminal Liability Just. Journal of Criminal law and Criminology, 87(4). Retrieved, from

Singer, R., & La Fond, J. (2007). Criminal Law (4 ed.). Aspen Publishers.
(n.d.). WiseGEEK: clear answers for common questions. What is Actus Reus? (with pictures). Retrieved September 24, 2015, from

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