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Actus reus in criminal law
 
 
 
 
The actus reus in criminal law consists of  all elements of a crime other than the state of mind of the defendant. In particular, actus reus may consist of: conduct, result, a state of affairs or an omission.
 
 
 
Conduct - the conduct itself might be criminal. Eg. the conduct of lying under oath represents the actus reus of perjury. It does not matter that whether the lie is believed or if had any effect on the outcome of the case, the actus reus of the crime is complete upon the conduct.
 
Examples of conduct crimes:
 
  • Perjury
  • Theft
  • Making off without payment 
  • Rape
  • Possession of drugs or a firearm
 
 
Result - The actus reus may relate to the result of the act or omission of the defendant. The conduct itself may not be criminal, but the result of the conduct may be. Eg it is not a crime to throw a stone, but if it hits a person or smashes a window it could amount to a crime. Causation must be established in all result crimes.
 
Examples of result crimes:
 
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • ABH
  • Wounding and GBH
  • Murder & Manslaughter
  • Criminal damage
 
 
 
State of affairs - For state of affairs crimes the actus reus consists of 'being' rather than 'doing'. Eg 'being' drunk in charge of a vehicle (Duck v Peacock [1949] 1 All ER 318 Case summary) or 'being' an illegal alien (R v Larsonneur (1933) 24 Cr App R 74 case summary).
 
 
 
 
Omission - Occassionally an omission can amount to the actus reus of a crime. The general rule regarding omissions is that there is no liability for a failure to act. Eg if you see a child drowning in shallow water and you don't do anything to save that child you will not incur criminal liability for your inaction no matter how easy it may have been for you to save the child's life. This general rule however, is subject to exceptions:
 
1. Statutory duty:
 
In some situations there is a statutory duty to act. Eg to provide details of insurance after a traffic accident or to notify DVLA when you sell a vehicle.
 
2. Contractual duty:
 
If a person owes a contractual duty to act, then a failure to meet this contractual duty may result in criminal liability:
 
R v Pittwood [1902] TLR 37  Case summary
 
3. Duty imposed by law
 
The actus reus can be committed by an omission where there exists a duty imposed by law. There are three situations in which a duty may be imposed by law. These are where the defendant creates a dangerous situation, where there has been a voluntary assumption of responsibility and misconduct in a public office. Additionally an omission may be classified as part of a continuing act.
 
 
a). Creating a dangerous situation and failing to put it right:
 
R v Miller [1983] 2 AC 161  Case summary
 
 
b). Assumption of responsibility:
 
 
R v Stone & Dobinson [1977] 1 QB 354  Case summary
 
 
 
 
c). Misconduct in a public office:
 
 
R v Dytham [1979] Q.B. 722  Case summary
 
 
An omission can also be classed as part of a continuing act:
 
Fagan v MPC [1969] 1Q.B. 439 Case summary
 
 
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actus reus