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Principles - actus reus - definition

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Definition of "actus reus".
Actus reus is the conduct of the accused.  It can be an act of commission or act of omission, and it must be a voluntary act that causes the damage or harm.  It can also be a "state of affairs".

It can be an act of commission or act of omission

A person may incur criminal liability for failing to do that which the law requires him to do as much as by doing that which the law prohibits.


The actus reus includes the state of affairs or circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence, together with the results or consequences (if any) that flow from that act or omission. It is essential that the defendant acted voluntarily and that he caused the injury, damage or harm.


In other words, actus reus includes all the elements of the offence indicated in the definition except the mens rea (the state of mind), if any.


Must be a voluntary act, not automatism

Generally the accused's conduct must be a voluntary act or omission, and he will not be held liable for acts done in a state of automatism.

Automatism resulting from self-induced intoxication is no excuse.


The accused must cause the prohibited consequences

The crime must be caused by some conduct by the accused.


That conduct need not be a direct cause of the crime, but can be through the agency of others.


The conduct need not be the sole or the effective cause of the crime, provided it cannot be dismissed as trivial, or as merely events leading up to the commission of the crime.


An omission is only culpable if there is a common law or statutory duty to act.

Generally there is no obligation on anyone to prevent harm or wrongdoing.


Omissions are only criminal where a duty to act arises at common law or is imposed by statute.

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