Knowledge in Criminal Law

KNOWLEDGE

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

A perception of the facts required for a crime is "knowledge" in criminal law.

Above all, 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. In everyday affairs, individuals look to the actions of others in order to determine a state of mind.

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 in open view, 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 must determine NOT what a reasonable person WOULD have known, but what the particular defendant actually DID OR DID NOT know at the time.

Does the defendant need to know the law?

A defendant does not need to know the law.

Moreover, 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.

Does the criminal complaint need to allege allegations of wrongdoing?

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.

Moreover, with an illegal possession of a firearm complaint 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 despite suspicion or an awareness.

When it is an element of an offense, “willful blindness”is legally relevant when:

  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.

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