What is a crime and what are the elements of a crime?

What is a crime?

An action or omission (yes, sometimes not doing something that you are supposed to do can be considered a crime, for example failing to take good care of your children or elderly depending on the facts can be considered child abuse or elder abuse) of an act that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state or the federal government and is punishable by law.

Note that only the crimes that are defined and recognized by statute can be prosecuted.

Florida classifies the crimes into two major groups: misdemeanors and felonies. City ordinance violations are low level crimes, which are part of the misdemeanor crimes.

Elements of the crime

In Florida all crimes have at least 2 elements. (Unless is a strict liability crime, which does not require a mens rea)

What are the elements of the crime?

Elements are the specific ingredients of each and every crime. For example, if you are making a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich the elements are Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Bread, meaning that you must have each ingredient present in order to have a PBJ Sandwich. If you have PB and Bread you may have another type of snack but not a PBJ Sandwich.

Mens Rea

To begin with basically all crimes include a mens rea element. Mens rea is a latin word, and it means the intention or knowledge of a wrongdoing. It does not necessarily need to be a very wicked mind, or evil thinking, because it depend in the required mens rea for the specific crime. Below here you can find a list of different types of mens rea, please note that this is a not a complete list and it is a combination of Florida and common law, and the Model Penal Code and is drafted in no particular order

  • Intentionally
  • Negligently
  • Purposely
  • Wantonly
  • Knowingly
  • Recklessly

Actus Rea

On the other hand, the actus rea is the specific conduct, action or omission of an act that is criminal conduct. For example, one can have the mens rea, the intention to purposely kill his or her neighbor, but you must actually kill the neighbor in order to meet the elements of a homicide crime, meaning that if you simply have the intention (mens rea) but do not put forward with your actions (actus rea) there is no completed crime then.

Some of the common criminal acts are:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Steal
  • Kill
  • Posses
  • Deliver
  • Strangle
  • Rob
  • Damage
  • Failure to follow traffic laws
  • Among many others.

Florida Statutes

There is a statute in Florida for each individual crime. The Florida statutes provide a specific definition of the particular crime in question. Please note that these statutes have numbers in order to identify one specific crime from another. Therefore, if you are charged with a crime, you must look at the particular Florida Statute number to illustrate yourself with the definition of that crime in particular. Further, from the definition you will gather the specific elements for your crime.

For example, let’s say that you are charged with the crime of Battery. Generally speaking, the definition of Battery is: the intentional and unwanted touching of another person. However, in Florida the definition and analysis you must do to defend your particular Battery case will stem from the specific Florida statute for battery.

Florida statute 784.03 defines Battery as: The offense of battery occurs when a person:

1. Actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other; or

2. Intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.

Based on a literal reading from the Florida Battery statute you can conclude that the elements of that crime are:

  • Mens rea: Intentionally
  • Actus rea: touching or striking or causing harm
  • Circumstances: the touching must be unwanted (without consent)

Pursuant to Florida law, there is a free website where you can access the Florida Statutes and educate yourself about each and any crime in the state of Florida. Please access the link below to find the Florida Statutes, in the search bar you can input the number of your crime/statute. Also, this link gives you access to the Florida Constitution and the laws of Florida.