Guilty Minds

Maryland Law Review

This Article develops a new vision of mens rea by returning to a bygone era’s conception of the guilty mind. The common law understanding of mens rea is broad and moralistic; it encompasses all mental characteristics bearing on an actor’s blameworthiness. Undertheorized and oft neglected, this “Guilty Minds” approach has been replaced with the Model Penal Code’s reconceptualization of mens rea as the purpose, knowledge, recklessness, or negligence applicable to every element of a criminal offense. Modern criminal law’s embrace of this narrower and more legalistic “PKRN” approach to mens rea has brought with it many well-known benefits. But there are also overlooked costs of divorcing mens rea doctrine from its moral foundations. This Article demonstrates how the Guilty Minds approach, once clarified and refined, can address these costs while revealing a promising new pathway for criminal law reform.

A4J Senior Research Scholar Michael Serota‘s article was published in the Maryland Law Review, Vol. 82, No. 3, 2023.