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?
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):
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, accident, negligence 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:
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