question.jpgIn Criminal Law

What does it mean to “knowingly” commit a crime?

Great question. Glad you asked. Many laws require that you “knowingly” engaged in a criminal act (iit doesn’t matter if you knew or not whether your actions violated the law, it only matters that you “knowingly” committed an act that was against the law). When a criminal statute says that, in order to be convicted, you must have “knowingly” committed the crime, the crime involves mens rea.

It may be easier to explain this concept by illustration: Let’s say that a statute made it a crime to “knowingly carry a gun into a supermarket.” To be convicted of the crime, you must have known that 1) you had a gun, and 2) you were in a supermarket. If, for instance, you were completely loony and you thought you were carrying a box of Twinkies into a donut shop, then you didn’t “knowingly” commit the crime, and therefore you didn’t commit the crime. Likewise, if an ex-boyfriend approached you at the entrance of a supermarket and secretly dropped a pistol into your bag, then you didn’t “know” you had a gun when you walked into the supermarket and, therefore, you didn’t commit the crime.

The government doesn’t always have to prove that you “knowingly” committed a crime through direct evidence (such as a confession). Circumstantial evidence is also allowed. Therefore, in the above case, if you didn’t admit to knowing you had a gun in your bag when you entered a supermarket, the government could introduce evidence that someone saw you put the gun in your bag or overheard you telling someone else that you planned to take a gun in the supermarket or even that your bag was too heavy not to know there was a gun inside it.