culpable mental states texas

Culpable Mental States Texas: Intentionally, Knowingly, Negligently, Recklessly

Most criminal offenses in Texas have some sort of mental state requirement. These are sometimes referred to as “culpable mental states” or “mens rea” which is Latin for “guilty mind.” The possible mental states in Texas criminal law are:

  • Intentionally
  • Knowingly
  • Negligently
  • Recklessly
  • No Mental State Required

You generally cannot commit a crime purely on accident. You must have some level of mental awareness, sometimes even just very slight, that your actions are criminal or may result in some negative result that could be considered criminal under the law. The exceptions are offenses for which no mental state is required (such as DWI.) Criminal offenses are presumed to have a mental state requirement and are not presumed to be strict liability offenses. See Aguirre v. State, 22 S.W.3d 463, 471-472(Tex. Crim. App. 1999)

Result-Oriented Crimes vs. Conduct-Oriented Crimes

In determining whether a crime is result-oriented, conduct-oriented, or both, courts must look to the gravamen—the gist—of the offense. An offense can be both result-oriented and conduct-oriented if it has multiple gravamina focusing on both conduct and results.

Intentionally – Texas Penal Code 6.03 (a)

Intentionally for result-oriented crimes means it was the person’s conscious objective or desire to cause the result. Intentionally for a conduct-oriented crime means it was the person’s conscious objective or desire to cause the result.

Knowingly – Texas Penal Code 6.03 (b)

Knowingly for a result-oriented crime means that the person is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result. Knowingly for a conduct-oriented crime means that the person is aware of the nature of his conduct or that the circumstances exist.

Recklessly – Texas Penal Code 6.03 (c)

Recklessly for a result-oriented crime means that the person is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. Recklessly for a conduct-oriented crime means that the person is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist. Under both definitions, the risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

Negligently – Texas Penal Code 6.03 (d)

Criminal negligence for a result-oriented crime means a person acts when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur. Criminal negligence for a conduct-oriented crime means a person acts when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist. For both definitions, the risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.

The best way to explain the difference between intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently is through an example. Let’s imagine you are in a hotel room several stories up from the street. Imagine the hotel is in a busy downtown area. Now imagine taking the television from the hotel room and setting it on the ledge of the open window. Now:

Intentional

It would be an intentional act to look out the window, see a busy street, take aim, and push the television so it falls directly a person.

Knowing

It would be a knowing act to look out the window, see a busy street, and push the window off the ledge. You do not intend hit anyone, but you were aware that it was reasonably certain a person would be struck and injured.

Negligent

It would be a negligent act to know that there is a busy street below, consciously choose not to look out to see if it was busy at the time, and push the tv off the ledge – you were aware of but consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result of hurting someone would occur.

Reckless

It would be reckless to push the tv out of a hotel window without knowing or checking what was below. Here, you ought to have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result of hurting someone would occur.

The culpable mental states for offenses drive the level of many offenses, and therefore the punishment range of an alleged offense. It could also make a difference as to whether the act is an offense at all. One of the most common mistakes defense attorneys make is not getting the correct language in a jury charge – for example giving the jury both definitions when only a result-oriented or conduct-oriented definition should be given.

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