Mental Elements (Mens Rea)

This page includes capsules that address the mental elements of offences. A few caveats!

  1. Needless to say, this is not legal advice.  It is designed to provide introductory explanations of certain topics in criminal law.
  2. These materials were designed for my students taking part in my criminal law class- as such they are NOT supposed to be comprehensive or exhaustive of the subject.
  3. They were made with time constraints in mind.  There are errors throughout, and though I feel confident about the product generally, I did not attempt to correct every mistake made.  The goal was to put a good product together in a short period of time.
  4. Often, in the interests of time, certain points are generalized.  This doesn’t mean they’re “wrong”, but nuances are often fleshed out in the course materials or in class.  Rather than include caveats with every sentence, I sometimes make broad generalizations even though I’m aware there might be exceptions that can occasionally arise.  Again, the goal is to promote a generalized understanding that provides a platform for deeper learning.
  5. I will heartily disavow any attempt to rely upon these in conflict with another Professor, judge, lawyer, etc.  Thus, anyone who says “yes, but Professor Sankoff said X”… will receive no support from me!  Especially where exams are concerned, it is always good practice to follow your Professor’s view of the law.  If this material helps you, by all means use it, but do so with care.

In addition to these capsules, you may find my Video Blogs focusing on mental elements to be of use.

Common Sense Inferences – January 2015

This capsule considers the operation of the “common sense inference” and explains how this inference is used to help determine whether the accused had the intent (or was reckless) about a particular consequence.  It also shows how this inference is different from proof of objective foresight of consequences

Intoxication- July 2015

In this capsule, I break down the different ways in which being intoxicated (whether it be by alcohol or drugs) can affect a person’s criminal liability. I provide a road map for the concept, examining the differences between voluntary and involuntary intoxication, specific and general intent offences and look at how extreme intoxication is treated.

Mistake of Law – January 2014

Recorded in January 2014, this capsule explores the differences between mistakes of fact (which tend to result in acquittal) and mistakes of law (which don’t).  It discusses the (then) recent decision of the SCC in R v MacDonald, 2014 SCC 3.

Transferred Intent – February 2015

This capsule explains the doctrine of transferred intent and how it operates in Canadian law.

Wilful Blindness vs Recklessness – January 2015

Recorded in January 2015, this capsule explains the differences between two important mental states: recklessness and wilful blindness, and in particular, shows why findings of wilful blindness are so rare.

This material has taken considerable time and effort to produce.  I ask only two things in return.  First, if you like these capsules – pass them on.  The primary objective here is to share a deeper understanding for the subject area I love most.  Second, if any of this was in any way useful, I urge you to let me know.  A short note at psankoff@ualberta.ca, or a comment (below), or even a “like”, would really make my day!

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