Do I need to know the law to be guilty?

What is knowledge in criminal law?

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

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.

How does the court know that I knew about something?

Jurors may consider ANY of the following in determining if the defendant acted with knowledge of something:

  • 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.

Does the knowledge need to 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.

Do I need to be knowledgeable about a crime to be guilty?

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.

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

What is willful blindness?

Willful blindness is a deliberate failure to make a reasonable inquiry of wrongdoing despite suspicion or an awareness. Said more simply, it's "pretending like you didn't see anything."

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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