Legal Definition of Intentional or Reckless Wrongs

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Legal Definition of Intentional or reckless wrongs
By
S J Tubrazy

Criminal liability may require the wrongful act to be done intentionally or with some further wrongful purpose in mind, or it may suffice that it was done recklessly; and iris each case the mental attitude of the doer is such as to make punishment effective. If a person intentionally chose the wrong doing, penal discipline will furnish him with a sufficient motive to choose the right instead, for the future. If, on the other hand, he committed the forbidden act without wrongful intent, yet realizing the possibility of the harmful result, punishment may be an effective inducement to better conduct in the future.

A person may be held responsible for some crimes if he did not do his best as a reasonable man to avoid the consequence in question. In another case the law may go even beyond this; holding a man responsible for his acts, independently altogether of any wrongful state of mind or culpable negligence, Wrongs which are thus independent of fault may be distinguished as wrongs of strict liability.

The wrongs thus are of three kinds:–

(1) Intentional or reckless wrongs, in which the mens rea amounts to intention, purpose, design, or at least foresight.

(2) Wrongs of negligence, in which the mens rea assumes the less serious form of mere carelessness, as opposed to wrongful intent or foresight. With these wrongs defences such as mistake will only negative mens rea if the mi3stake itself is not negligent.

(3) Wrongs of strict liability, in which the mens rea is not required, neither wrongful intent nor culpable negligence being recognised as a necessary condition of responsibility; and here defences like mistake are of no avail.

An intention thus is the purpose or design with which an act is done. Suppose one buys a gun. His intention may be to shoot for sport or game, to use in self-defence or to shoot some one to cause his death. However, if the latter act is proved as not shooting for defence but as killing then the intention can be said to be to do this very thing i.e. to kill him.

An unintentional act is one lacking such purpose or design. An act such as killing, which (consists of a cause and an effect, may be unintentional when the actor brings about consequences which he does not intend. One may kill by mistake, say firing at a game or wrongly imagining him to be someone else. In the former cases he fails to foresee the consequences, in the latter case he is ignorant of some of the circumstances.

A state of law, however, could provide that a man be held liable for such consequences, even though he did not intend them. In the first place, such a rule would obviate the need for difficult inquiries into the mental element. But secondly, and more important, the rule could be justified on the ground that a man should not do acts which he foresees will involve consequential harm to others, whether or not he intends to cause this harm. Such behavior is clearly reckless or blameworthy, unless the risk can be justified by reason of the social interest of the act itself.

The law may, and sometimes does, impute liability, outside the strict definition of intention, for what is called constructive intention. Consequences which are in fact the outcome of negligence merely are sometimes in law dealt with as intentional. Thus he who intentionally does grievous bodily harm to another, though with no desire to kill him, or certain expectation of his death, is guilty of murder if death ensues.

Law frequently, though by no means invariably, treats as intentional, all consequences due to that form of negligence which is distinguished as recklessness that is to say, which the actor foresees as the probable results of his wrongful act. The foresight of the reasonable man is of course an obviously useful evidential test, whereby to infer, what the actor himself foresaw, but the rule just mentioned has transformed it into a presumption of law which cannot, it seems, be rebutted. Intention thus covers acts expressly intended or those done recklessly.

 

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