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:: A constitutional law blog by Scalia/Thomas fan David M. Wagner, M.A., J.D., Research Fellow, National Legal Foundation, and Teacher, Veritas Preparatory Academy. Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect those of the NLF or Veritas. :: bloghome | E-mail me ::

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    :: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 ::
    Criminal law question from a student:

    Trying to grasp just what we are getting at in class on the topic of mens rea.
    I found a passage that seems to explain when mens rea applies and when you can offer mistake of fact/law as a defense. The only problem is I don't understand what it means. Maybe you can help.

    P. 220 of the casebook, number 2

    "Ignorance of the offense definition is no defense. On this principle, defendant may be acquitted for ignorance that conditions specified in the definition were present; but may not be acquitted merely b/c she did not know that such conditions constituted defining elements of a proscribed offense."
    Yes: the accurate meaning of "ignorance of the law is no excuse" is not that all are presumed to know the entire law, but rather that knowledge of illegality is not ordinarily an element of the crime.

    And what does "not ordinarily" mean? It means that the legislature can make knowledge of illegality an element, but will not be presumed to have done so if that statute doesn't say so.

    And when does a statute say so? Well, mens rea terms such as "knowingly" or "willfully" are enough to raise the issue....

    :: David M. Wagner 1:09 PM [+] ::

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