In any criminal case in Minnesota, state or federal, a prosecuting attorney prepare a charging document (a Complaint or Indictment) accusing a person of a crime. The prosecutor must base this on second-hand information, reported to them by others, usually police officers. The information police officer provide to prosecutors is based upon their investigation into what other people say and other available evidence such as physical evidence. It’s relatively unusual for police officers to have first-hand knowledge of what they are reporting. With so many layers of second-hand information, it’s easy to see how something could go wrong — how an innocent person could be falsely accused.
This in part explains why the person accused begins with the presumption of innocence. The accused is innocent unless the prosecutor can persuade a jury (or judge in court trial) that there is no possible inference consistent with innocence given the evidence in the trial record. The burden of proof is high — beyond any reasonable doubt. That is the core legal defense in every criminal case. The prosecutor has to try to overcome any reasonable doubt about each and every element to the crime charged. The elements of a crime are stated or implied by the criminal statute defining the crime. But all crimes generally include at least the basic elements of:
Identity. If a crime was committed, who did the prohibited act? Was it caused by the accused?
Prohibited Act. Was an act performed? If so, was it prohibited by law?
Criminal Intent. We often say there are two types of criminal intent, specific and general. Specific intent means the actor must have intended to cause the result of the prohibited act. General intent means the actor must have intended to perform the prohibited act, even if not the result of it. There are varying levels of criminal intent required by various criminal statutes. Sometimes, a gross negligence level of intent is enough for criminal liability. An example of this could be Minnesota Criminal Vehicular Operation. But Simple Negligence is not intentional by definition, and so cannot give rise to criminal liability. Sometimes a condition to an intent element of crime is knowledge, as in possession of contraband type crimes. A person cannot be guilty of a possession crime if they had no knowledge that the contraband was located wherever it was found.
We can look deeper into criminal intent proof requirements one court did here:
Crimes used to be categorized as involving specific intent or general intent. In recent years, four categories of mens rea have been delineated—purpose, knowledge, recklessness, negligence. See United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394, 404, 100 S.Ct. 624, 62 L.Ed.2d 575 (1980); Model Penal Code § 2.02 (1974). The two categories most difficult to distinguish, and the most germane to our discussion, are purpose and knowledge. A person acts with purpose when the person “‘consciously desires that result, whatever the likelihood of that result happening from [the person’s] conduct.'” United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422, 445, 98 S.Ct. 2864 (1978) (quoting Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Jr., Criminal Law 196 (1972)). A person acts with knowledge when the person is aware “‘that the result is practically certain to follow from [the person’s] conduct, whatever [the person’s] desire may be as to that result.'” Id. (quoting LaFave & Scott, Criminal Law at 196).
State v. Hage, 595 NW 2d 200, 207 fn. 1 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 1999).
Beyond the government’s burden of proof on the elements of the crime charged, there are other types of defenses, including Affirmative Defenses.
Defenses addressed in on other pages here:
Affirmative Defenses. When the burden of production of evidence is on the accused to support a defense, we call that defense an affirmative defense. Once the defense has asserted and offered evidence supporting an affirmative defense, the burden of proof then rests upon the prosecution — to persuade the fact-finder (jury or judge) beyond all reasonable doubt — that the defense should not apply. An example of an affirmative defense is Self-Defense.
Question? You can call Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher at (612) 333-1500