When you are charged with a crime, the charge is usually based on probable cause at the scene of the arrest or through and arrest warrant. Further, in regard to felonies in North Carolina, that probable cause is affirmed after arrest by either waiving probable cause or by grand jury indictment. How? Through a showing of the elements of the charged crime. In this blog we will discuss the elements of a crime and what that means. Like all our blogs, this is intended for general informational purposes only, and not as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney.
Elements of a crime defined
What are elements of a crime? The simple answer is that every crime is broken down into components (elements) and every one of those components must be present to constitute that crime. For example, the elements of any homicide would include the unlawful killing of a human being. In its simplest form:
- Unlawful – Meaning without legal justification or legal defense
- Killing – the person has to actually die for it to be a homicide crime
- Human being – if you killed an animal, it would not be homicide – it would be a different crime.
So, in this quite simple example the three elements are 1. Unlawful, 2. Killing, 3. Human being. They must all be present for the crime of homicide to apply.
Elements of a crime regarding arrest/charging
To be arrested for something or be charged with a crime there must be some reasonable probability that the elements of the accused crime are all present. In the example of a homicide crime, there was a reasonable probability that there was a killing, reasonable probably it was unlawful, and reasonable probability that the victim was a person.
Elements of a crime at trial
In a criminal trial, every element of the crime must be proven by the government beyond a reasonable doubt. This is accomplished through the presentation of testimony and other evidence from witnesses in a trial setting. If the defense can probably defend or negate even one element of a particular crime, he can no longer legally be found guilty of that crime.
Figuring out what the elements of a crime are an important step in figuring out what your defense would be for a particular charge. When you are charged with a crime, hire a criminal defense lawyer, and make sure you understand the elements of the crime you are accused of.