We have looked at a lot policing policies, rules and procedures, but what we have not looked at are the actual offences for which you can and will be locking your bad guys up for in your crime fiction. The offences that you need to know to be able to have grounds for arrest and to even be able to interview them and have the outcome you want if you want to be able to charge them at the end. Because, it’s not enough to just say they did it. There is a lot more to it than that, and with this first offence of murder, we will look at the wider aspects of proving offences including mens rea (state of mind) and actus reus (criminal conduct).
The offence of murder is a common law offence, which means that it has been developed entirely by the law courts and not in statute.
It holds a mandatory life sentence and the offence is;
Murder is committed when a person unlawfully kills another human being under the Queen’s Peace, with malice aforethought.
Each of these words means something and has to be considered and is called a point to prove for the offence.
So, for instance, a human is anyone from a baby having been born alive and has an existence independent of its mother.
The Queen’s Peace allows for wartime killings.
And malice aforethought is the mens rea.
Mens rea (state of mind)
Mens rea is your intention. And for murder you need to have intended to have committed murder OR grievous bodily harm. Yes, you don’t need to intended to commit murder, but if you intend to cause serious harm and your actions are the cause of the person’s death, then you are guilty of their murder. Also, it is often thought that premeditation is a requirement of murder, but it isn’t. If at the scene of the incident, you decide to cause the harm or commit the murder and the intent is still there, then it is murder. The onus is on the intent. The mens rea. The malice aforethought.
For some criminal offences there is a ‘strict liability’, which means that once the act is done, it doesn’t matter what the thought process behind the offender was. Not so with murder. You need to ascertain the mens rea of the offender for the offence.
Actus reus (criminal conduct)
When proving actus reus you must show that the defendant’s action was voluntary and that it occurred while he still had the requisite mens rea.
In other words, he acted of his own volition. This was not an accident of some description.
You need to bear all of the above in mind when deciding if you are going to make an arrest and when you go into interview you most definitely need to know your points to prove – the exact offence wording and each point of it that needs to be proved. This is important. It’s not about, did you do it? It’s about proving each of the points in the offence. Other offences are a little more complicated than murder, the wording is a little more long-winded. Yes, murder can be difficult because you have to try to prove a persons mindset. That is the most important part of the offence, but other than that, it is quite a straightforward offence in that they had to kill and they had to intend to kill.
When interviewing your offender you need to make sure you go into the mens rea in quite some detail otherwise you will struggle to get a charge of murder through.
You can find all other posts in this series HERE.
Rebecca Bradley is a retired UK police detective with over 15 years UK policing experience. Seven of those years were in uniform and the rest in a specialist investigative department where She handled multiple, serious and complex investigations. She is now a crime writer and offers a police procedural fact-checking service, available to all crime writers setting their work in England or Wales.
Please see THIS POST for further details.
Join my Writing Crime group. If you sign up to the group you will receive a police MG11 statement (a genuine statement paper – I found online) which I have written a statement on, using an incident that occurs at the end of my novella, Three Weeks Dead. So, it’s a genuine statement, authentically written by an ex-detective.
What else will you receive in this group?
Every month I will send you, either;
- Another document I have completed.
- A link to an online document I know will help you.
- Another police document that forms part of a police investigation.
All of these can be printed out and kept in a folder and your folder will grow with policing information that you, as writers, can use, or ignore, as you wish. It is fiction, but having the information means you can make an informed decision.
If you want to be a part of this group and to claim your first item (the completed statement) then go HERE.