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CHAPTER 6

Strict Liability

OVERVIEW

Notwithstanding the law's general insistence that the state prove the defendant had a mens rea, in a very few instances courts interpret statutes that have no mens rea words as allowing criminal liability to be imposed even though the defendant had no mens rea (even tortious negligence) with regard to one or more material elements of the offense. (See Chapter 4 for a discussion of “elements analysis.”) A common example is a statute that makes it a crime to sell alcohol to a minor. Most courts would require that the government prove that the defendant knew he was selling liquor; a mistake of fact that the item sold was water would usually exonerate.[1] If there is strict liability in such a statute, it is with respect to the material element of the customer's age.

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