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Mens Rea

That’s a Latin legal term that is normally translated as “culpable mental state” and is indicated in criminal law by words like “intentionally”, “knowingly”, “negligently”, etc. It is part of the definition of any particular crime.

There was a nasty murder case in LA when I was in Southern California that created a firestorm of protests when the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction for the very basic reason that the district attorney hadn’t bothered to enter into evidence any of the mountain of facts that he had concerning the defendant’s “culpable mental state”. To prove murder you have to show that the defendant “intended” to kill the victim.

You can certainly prove that Joseph Stack intended to kill himself, but it would be a bit dicey to prove that he either “intended” to kill anyone else, although it was an obvious possibility, or to terrorize anyone outside of the IRS. It is a very technical point, but it matters in the law.

Mr. Stack was being targeted by the IRS, as are all independent contractors. That was the purpose of the 1986 law. It was sold as a “revenue measure”, because “everyone knows” that independent contractors are noteworthy tax evaders. The New York Times actually committed flagrant journalism and researched the law and the reasons for passing it.

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February 21, 2010   29 Comments