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No Mens Rea Requirement for Driving on a Suspended License

Many crimes require the State to prove a mens rea, or "guilty mind" element before a person can be convicted of the crime. A mens rea or criminal culpability element ensures that a person is not guilty of the criminal offense unless the person had some degree of intent or knowledge that he or she was engaging in the conduct in question (the actus rea, or "guilty act"). But this is not the case for all crimes. Some crimes carry strict liability for conduct without any culpability element. In Tennessee, driving on a cancelled, suspended, or revoked license is one of these strict liability crimes.

In the recent case of State v. Harris, W2012-02738-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 1-3-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals noted, as it has in prior cases, that there is no mens rea element to the criminal offense of driving on a cancelled, suspended, or revoked license. In the Harris case, the defendant's license had been suspended for failure to pay child support. After conviction, he challenged on appeal the sufficiency of the evidence, arguing that he had not been aware his license was suspended and that the State had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he had been aware of the suspension.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction, pointing out that under case law dating back to 1993, Tennessee courts have held that the offense of driving on a cancelled, suspended, or revoked license does not require the State to prove any knowledge or intent element.  It is only necessary to prove the conduct for that offense.

For more information on the mens rea element of criminal offenses, contact Hindman & Associates.

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