Authority, Freedom, and the Guilty Mind

61 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2016 Last revised: 24 Feb 2016

Stephen P. Garvey

Cornell Law School

Date Written: February 8, 2016


Imagine an actor who commits a crime in thrall to a powerful desire. Think, for example, about those we call addicts, phobics, maniacs, philiacs, provokees, and so forth. Do any conditions exist under which such actors should be immune to criminal liability when they choose to commit a crime in order to mollify their enthralling desire? Yes. An actor should be immune to criminal liability when, assuming he freely chooses to commit a crime (and thus satisfies the demand that his act be guilty or his actus reus), he nonetheless fails to manifest a guilty mind or mens rea, i.e., his choice to commit the crime reflected no ill will for the state’s authority or its criminal laws. I doubt this condition will obtain very often, but when it does, any actor fulfilling it is beyond the state’s authority to punish.

Keywords: authority, freedom, mens rea, guilty mind

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Garvey, Stephen P., Authority, Freedom, and the Guilty Mind (February 8, 2016). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-7. Available at SSRN: or

Stephen P. Garvey (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-8589 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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