One of the essential things that makes a crime a crime is that the person committing the act intends to do it, at least to some degree. It seems especially harsh for the law to treat someone who made a mistake and caused an accident the same way it would treat someone who caused the accident on purpose. The person doing something by mistake bothers us less than the person who did it all on purpose, because the person who did it on purpose had what the legal field calls a “culpable state of mind.”
For this reason, laws are often written in a way that requires there to be a specific state of mind present, in order for the crime to be committed. For example, in Washington, you can be guilty of murder if you kill someone “with a premeditated intent.” If that state of mind was not there, however, and instead you were merely acting “recklessly” when you killed someone, you can only be guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
How these different states of mind work and are used in Washington's criminal laws can be helpful, especially if you have been charged with a crime or need to understand how the criminal justice system works.
Culpable States of Mind in Washington
The criminal laws of Washington recognize four different states of mind that can turn something done as a mistake into the commission of a crime. These are:
- Recklessness, and
- Criminal negligence
Different laws that criminalize different acts will often mention one of these, turning it into a culpable state of mind for that particular type of conduct.
For example, the laws of Washington make it a crime to launder money, but only if it is done knowingly. Someone who does all of the conduct necessary to be guilty of money laundering, but only does it because they are being reckless, does not have the culpable state of mind necessary to have committed the crime.
Strict Liability Crimes Are an Exception
Unfortunately, there are some acts that you can do that do not require a specific state of mind for it to be considered a crime. These are called “strict liability offenses.” Driving under the influence (DUI) is a classic example of a strict liability offense. You can be found guilty for DUI if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is at or above the legal limit, regardless of whether this was done intentionally, recklessly, or even negligently.
Generally speaking, strict liability crimes are frowned upon by courts because they are often unfair, punishing two people the same, even if one wanted to commit the crime, and the other did not. Nevertheless, there are numerous strict liability crimes on the books in Washington, creating numerous unfair arrests and convictions every single year.
Criminal Defense Attorney Steve Karimi
Having a solid criminal defense attorney on your side when you are facing a criminal charge is crucial, regardless of what the charge is for. Defense attorneys like Steve Karimi understand how to effectively challenge the culpable state of mind requirement behind crimes, and how to defend against charges for strict liability crimes, as well. Contact his law office in Seattle at (206) 621-8777 or online.