Supernatural Actus Reus
dlaycock at MAIL.LAW.UTEXAS.EDU
Wed Dec 17 15:32:53 PST 1997
My recollection is that we do not punish bad thoughts. There must
be actus reus to go with the mens rea.
Acts designed merely to invoke the supernatural cannot be the actus
reus without discriminating among religions and against religion. Consider
three cases, the first of which is probably not rare:
1. Angry defendant thinks to himself, or says out loud, "I wish he
would just drop dead."
2. Angry defendant prays to God to strike victim dead, believing
such prayer to be efficacious.
3. Angry defendant offers burnt offering to induce God to strike
victim dead, believing such ceremony to be efficacious.
1 and 2 differ only in that defendant 2 has a religious belief that
his words will be efficacious. 2 and 3 differ only in that the two
religions practice different modes of prayer. Neither of these differences
can be the basis of criminal liability.
If we are agreed that 1 is no crime, I think that 2 and 3 cannot be
a crime either. And I think that none of this has much to do with the
defendant who attempts to kill victim by a natural means that has no chance
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