Criminal Law – Actus Reus – What does it mean?

In law, the term “Actus Reus” refers to the physical or external element of a crime. It is a Latin phrase that translates to “guilty act.” Actus reus encompasses any voluntary action, omission, or conduct that is prohibited by law and forms the basis of criminal liability.

To establish criminal liability, two elements must typically be proven: actus reus and mens rea. Actus reus focuses on the external aspect of the offense, while Mens Rea pertains to the mental state or intent of the perpetrator.

Actus reus can take various forms depending on the specific crime involved. It may involve actions such as theft, assault, murder, or driving under the influence. Additionally, it can encompass omissions or failures to act when there is a legal duty to act, such as in cases of neglect or failure to provide necessary care.

To establish actus reus, it is crucial to demonstrate that the accused party engaged in a voluntary act or omission that violated a specific law or legal duty. Mere thoughts, intentions, or desires are generally insufficient to establish actus reus. However, certain offenses, such as conspiracy or attempt, may focus on the individual’s preparatory actions leading up to the commission of a crime.

Understanding actus reus is essential in criminal law as it helps determine whether an individual’s behavior meets the necessary criteria for criminal liability. By establishing the presence of both actus reus and mens rea, the legal system seeks to ensure a fair and just evaluation of criminal conduct.

Actus Reus refers to the physical act or conduct of committing a crime. In simple words, it’s about what someone actually does to break the law.


1. **Shoplifting**: If someone goes into a store, takes an item without paying, and leaves without permission, the act of taking the item is the actus reus of shoplifting.

2. **Speeding**: When a driver exceeds the speed limit and gets caught, the act of driving over the speed limit is the actus reus of the offense.

3. **Assault**: If a person physically attacks or harms another person, the act of carrying out the attack is the actus reus of the assault.

4. **Burglary**: Breaking into someone’s house or property with the intention to steal something is the actus reus of burglary.

5. **Drug Possession**: When someone is found to have illegal drugs in their possession, the act of having the drugs is the actus reus of drug possession.

In each of these examples, the actus reus is the actual physical action that constitutes the criminal offense. It is important to note that for someone to be found guilty of a crime, both the actus reus (the physical act) and the mens rea (the criminal intent) must typically be proven in court.

Posted in Business Law, Criminal Law.