The MPC simplifies the approach to culpability quite well. Instead of taking the common law approach and describing mens rea to a variety of words (i.e. “malice”), it is simplified to only four “purposeful, knowingly, recklessly, and negligence”. The cases and code below will explain each term more fully

MPC §2.02 and Commentaries

An important thing to not is that the mens rea terms below are in hierarchy order. Meaning, if you have purpose, then you will also having knowledge, reckless, and negligence. If you have knowledge, then you also have recklessness, and negligence. If you are reckless, you also have negligence.


Purpose requires having knowledge. But in addition to knowledge, there needs to be a “conscious objective” on the part of the actor, expecting the result to occur.


There are two ways to establish knowledge. First, the actor is “consciously aware” of the actions taking place. Second, the actor could be aware that the conduct is “practically certain” of the conduct.


To establish recklessness, two requirements on the part of the actor need to be met. First, there needs to be a conscious risk creation. This means that the actor is aware of the risk. However, unlike knowing (where there needs to be practical certainty), this probability can be less than substantial certainty. The jury can find this through a subjective analysis. This means that they need to look into the mind of the actor, asking if the actor knew that the actions would create a substantial risk.

Second, the jury looks at the justifiability of the risk. In other words, does the actors disregard of the risk justify condemnation? Here, we use an objective standard to determine how a law-abiding person would have acted if they were in a similar situation.

To summarize, first we use a subjective standard to see if the actor was aware of the risk. Second, we use an objective standard to see if disregard of that risk is justified.


Here, we are asking if the actor “ought to be aware” of the risk. Here, we only use an objective standard to determine whether that is the case.

MPC §2.03(2)

This section of the MPC states that a person is not liable for a crime they did not intend to commit unless there is transferred intent.

Additional Lecture Notes

Requires purpose or knowledge.

Intent does not transfer unless: Different person or different property

However, in common law, intent only transfers from person to person OR property to property. Under the MPC, intent can also transfer if the harm caused is less than the objective harm.

MPC §2.05

This section of the MPC states when a person is strictly liable for their crimes. More to come on this during class.

Additional Notes

The MPC attempts to end any strict liability. The authors wanted to mental culpability for all crimes. So, the MPC makes a person strictly liable for crimes in the case of violations (fine only).

Strict Liability

Morissette v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States, 1952. 342 U.S. 246, 72 S. Ct. 240, 96 L. Ed. 288.

Morissette is the defendant. He was charged and convicted of violating a federal statute that states:

“whoever steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any thing of value of the United States shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

He appeals.


Should the court follow the seemingly “strict liability” words of the text?



Although the defendant knew he was taking, he did not know he was converting. Judgement reversed.


Morissette was hunting but unsuccessful. On the land, he discovered some expired bomb shells and took them to sell (to cover the expense of his trip). He was convicted of violating the crime mentioned above.

The defendant claims that although he knew he was taking the objects, he could not be guilty because he did not know they had value to the government.

The government claims that the statute does not have the mens rea of intent so his knowledge here is enough to convict.


The court needs to examine this statute because it puts strict liability on anybody who knowingly does an action without intending to commit the crime mentioned in the statute.

A lot of statutes are written in without the “culpability element” meaning the mens rea. Most of this action came as a desire to simplify and adopt judicial terms came from the legislature.

Therefore, even though there is no mens rea written into the statute, there needs to be a mens rea for the action. Here, the defendant needs to have knowledge of the facts that he was creating a conversion.


Even when a statute does not have a mens rea, the instinct of the court is to include a mens rea to reach a conviction.

Additional Notes

There are some things that can have strict liability. To decide if there have strict liability

  • Public welfare offense

Staples v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States, 1994. 511 U.S. 600, 114 S. Ct. 1793, 128 L. Ed. 2d 608.

Staples is the defendant. He was arrested for violating The National Firearms Act, 26 §§ 5801-5872 which requires fully automatic weapons to be registered. Statute 5861(d) makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison for any person to possess a firearm that is not properly registered. He was charged and convicted to five years probation and a $5,000 fine. He appeals.


Whether or not the defendant must know of the particular characteristics that make the weapon a statutory firearm.


The court considers the legislative intent and the general perception to determine if there is mens rea in this statute.


There is a mens rea requirement. The case is reversed and remanded to determine whether or not the defendant had knowledge.


The defendant owned a AR-15 which is semi-automatic by nature. However, he had made some modifications to the weapon to cause it to be fully automatic. The BATF seized the firearm, tested it, discovered that it was fully automatic, and arrested the defendant.

The defendant claims that he did not know that the firearm was fully automatic.

On the other hand, the government claims that there is no need to determine whether the defendant had knowledge, the statute had not written in a mens rea, he was guilty whether or not he had knowledge. Other reasons why the legislature had excluded mens rea is because this weapon could be classified as dangerous, and necessary to be restricted for the public welfare.


Initially, the court says that mens rea is “the rule of, rather than the exception to”. In other words, even if mens rea isn’t written into the statute, the courts should error on the side that it could have been written in there. But how can the courts determine whether or not this was intended by the legislature?

  • Legislature often neglected including mens rea in smaller penalties for violation.
    • Here, the penalty is large so the likelihood of excluding mens rea for penalty is slim.
  • Second, the courts tends interpret mens rea exclusions to be justifiable for dangerous items (Balint with hand grenades)
    • However, in Balint there was no question that the person had mens rea, here we need to determine whether or not mens rea is necessary.
    • The courts say that it is not because owning a firearm is often seen as an innocent act, much like driving a car. If the court establishes firearms as dangerous, then other innocent acts can also be classified as dangerous requiring restrictions.

Because this statute does not meet those rules to exclude mens rea, the statute should be interpreted to include mens rea. Therefore, the case is revered and remanded for trial. The legislature should now look at the facts to see if the defendant had knowledge of his actions.


Mens rea is the rule, not the exception. There can be some things that have strict liability, but those are things where the penalties are minimal, items are classified as “dangerous” and it benefits the public welfare.

Because this statute does not meet any of those standards, there is no mens rea.

Additional Notes

Types of Material Elements

  • Nature of the forbidden conduct
  • The attendant circumstances
  • The result of the conduct

For each element, there needs to to be a mental state:

  • Purposefully
    • “Conscious Object”
  • Knowingly
    • “Consciously Aware”
    • “Practically Certain”
  • Recklessly
    • “Conscious of Risk” but acts anyways
  • Negligently
    • “Should have known” of risk

What remain strict liability offenses?

  • Traffic offenses
  • Minor food and liquor violations
  • Statutory rape
  • Specifically worded federal statutes
  • Statutes with more compelling purposes


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.