Actus Reus vs. Mens Rea

In an August 27, 2010 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court addressed the difference and the application of two important legal terms/doctrines that apply in all criminal cases: "actus reus" and "mens rea." Whenever a defendant is prosecuted and tried for a crime, the prosecutor must prove both that the defendant engaged in statutorily prohibited conduct (Latin: "actus renus") and that the defendant had a specific metal state (Latin: "mens rea") in violating that statute. The four mental states under Ohio law are: (i) negligently, (ii) recklessly, (iii) knowingly and (iv) intentionally. [Please note that this article will not discuss the definitions of those four terms - that may be the subject of a later article]. What the Court held in its recent decision of State v. Horner was that when an indictment charges a defendant with a violation of a criminal statute, that indictment does not necessarily have to set forth the applicable mental state in the text of the indictment - the text of the indictment just has to tract the criminal statute in such a way as to put the defendant on notice of the charges against him/her. The Court also held, as an additional matter, that when s specific criminal statute does not specifically set forth the required mental state (i.e. the "mens rea"), then the default mental state (for the most part) is going to be "recklessly."
This recent decision essentially overturned a 2008 Ohio Supreme Court of Ohio decision that lead to a large amount of confusion and motion practice by defendants who claimed that their indictments were defective because the indictment did not specifically set forth the applicable mental state. What we have here, practically speaking, is a 2010 decision that overruled a 2008 decision - something that is very unusual for the Ohio Supreme Court (given the fact that essentailly the same judges that were involved in the 2008 decision were also involved with this recent decision). We guess that, to use an old phrase, the 2008 decision sounded like a good idea at the time, but that the substantial amount of motion practice by defendants arguing the technical application of the 2008 decision resulted in the Ohio Supreme Court saying, let's think about this again.