Criminal Law:

Interpreting Criminal Statutes

All criminal statutes define crimes in terms of required acts and a required state of mind, the latter usually described as the actor's intent. These are the elements of the offense. A prosecutor must convince a judge or jury that the person charged with the crime did the acts and had the intent described in the law. For example, commercial burglary is commonly defined as entering a structure belonging to another person, with the intent to commit petty or grand theft or any felony. To convict a person of this offense, the prosecutor would have to prove three elements:

  • The defendant entered the structure.
  • The structure belonged to another person.
  • At the time the defendant entered the structure, he intended to commit petty or grand theft or any felony.

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