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In 2014, the State of Ohio changed the liability requirements for criminal offenses in a way that has been described as making it harder to accidentally commit a crime. The changes made in Ohio’s laws are a leading example in a push for expanded criminal justice reform, both in both state and federal law. The election of Donald Trump as the country’s next president leaves the future of criminal justice reform on the federal level unclear.
A general legal principle is that two things are required for something to be considered a criminal offense. The first requirement is the commission of a prohibited act or the failure to perform a duty required by law, which is known as the actus reus. The second requirement is that at the time of the action or failure to act an individual must have been in a state of mind that made them culpable for the offense, known as the mens rea. Examples of culpable mental states would be if a person committed the act purposely or if the person acted with such negligence that they should be held criminally liable for the action.
If a prohibited act is committed while in a culpable mental state, then it is a criminal offense. Most criminal laws are structured so both the prohibited action and a mens rea are specified. However, there are some laws that do not require a mens rea and the commission of the act is considered a criminal offense regardless of the mental state. This type of criminal offense is known as a strict liability offense. Drunk driving provides an example of a strict liability offense in Ohio- operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a criminal offense regardless of your mental state.
The bill responsible for Ohio’s criminal justice reform was Ohio Senate Bill 361. The bill was passed unanimously in both houses of the legislature, signed by Governor John Kasich on December 19, 2014, and became effective March 3, 2015. The main purpose of the law was to clarify the mens rea requirement for the commission of crimes in Ohio and to mandate that any criminal offenses created in the future provide a specific statement of the mens rea requirement. Senate Bill 361 became necessary because of an increase in vague laws that could be read to unintentionally create more and more strict liability offenses.
The election of Donald Trump provides no clear guidance on possible changes to mens rea requirements on the federal level. Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have proposed bills in the current term that would standardize mens rea requirements, so it is possible a Republican president could help to move such criminal justice reform measures forward in the next term. However, Trump’s campaign stressed the importance of law and order and a Trump Administration might view increased strict liability offenses in a positive light.
No matter what happens on the federal level, most crimes an individual might face are state crimes and Senate Bill 361 provides clarity for mens rea requirements in Ohio. The confusion regarding mens rea highlights just how complex defending yourself against criminal charges has become.
If you find yourself charged with a criminal offense, you want a knowledgeable Columbus criminal defense attorney who understands all of the requirements of the charges against you. Luftman, Heck & Associates have experienced criminal defense attorneys who have handled all manner of cases ranging from traffic offenses to serious felonies.
Call us today at for a free and confidential consultation.