KNOWLEDGE

KNOWLEDGE

 This post will answer the following questions about the criminal law concept of knowledge:

  • Legally speaking, what is “knowledge” and how do jurors evaluate it in a criminal case?
  • What kinds of evidence do jurors consider in determining if the defendant acted with “knowledge” of something?
  • Must legal knowledge be personal?
  • Must a defendant be knowledgeable of the law to legally be considered knowledgeable?
  • Do allegations of knowledge need to be alleged in a criminal complaint?
  • What is “willful blindness” and how does it relate to legal “knowledge”?

Legally speaking, what is “knowledge” and how do jurors evaluate it in a criminal case?

In criminal law, “knowledge”is a perception of the facts required to make up a crime.

It is the burden of the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at the time of the offense the defendant knew something.

This requires jurors to evaluate the defendant’s state of mind during the time in question. It is obviously impossible to look directly into a person’s mind, but often in everyday affairs individuals look to the actions of others in order to decide what his or her state of mind is.

What kinds of evidence do jurors consider in determining if the defendant acted with “knowledge” of something?

 Jurors may consider ANY of the following in determining if the defendant acted with “knowledge”of something (ONE OR MORE):

  • The defendant’s actions and words
  • All of the surrounding circumstances of the situation in question
  • All of the available evidence
  • Reasonable inferences

Take contraband in plain view as an example. When contraband is found in open view in an area over which a person has control, it may be reasonable to infer that the person knew it was there.

Must legal knowledge be personal?

YES, legal knowledge must be personal.

Jurors can look to all the surrounding circumstances of the case in question in determining reasonable inferences about what the defendant knew.

However, in the end jurors are required to determine NOT what a reasonable person WOULD have known, but what the particular defendant actually DID OR DID NOT know at the time.

Must a defendant be knowledgeable of the law to legally be considered knowledgeable?

NO, a defendant is NOT required to be knowledgeable of the law to legally be considered knowledgeable?

The requirement that the defendant’s act must have been done “knowingly” to be a criminal offense means it must have been done voluntarily and intentionally, and not because of mistake, accidentnegligence or another reason.

However, it is NOT necessary that the defendant have known that there is a law that makes it a crime to engage in that action, since generally, ignorance of the law is NOT an excuse for violating the law.

Do allegations of knowledge need to be alleged in a criminal complaint?

Knowledge, even when it is an element of the offense in question, does NOT always need to be alleged in the criminal complaint.

Note that in a possession of obscene material complaint, due to the ambiguous nature of obscene material, knowledge must ALWAYS be alleged.

Also note that with an illegal possession of a firearm complaint, due to the obvious characteristics of a gun, knowledge does NOT need to be alleged in the possession complaint.

What is “willful blindness” and how does it relate to legal “knowledge”?

“Willful blindness”is a deliberate failure to make a reasonable inquiry of wrongdoing (e.g. drug dealing in one’s own home) despite suspicion or an awareness of the high probability of its existence. 

When knowledge is an element of an offense, “willful blindness”is legally considered to be a relevant factor of the case in question when ALL three of the following are true:

  1. A defendant claims a lack of knowledge
  2. The facts of the case in question suggest a conscious course of deliberate ignorance
  3. The facts of the case do NOT suggest a mandated inference of knowledge

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

 CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.

sidebar_in_the_news

Contact Us

Fill out our online form