Mens Rea in the Spotlight
The Unique Case of Europeia v. Bri Shakespeare
Written by Prim
Europeia v. Bri Shakespeare
On October 28, then-First Minister Pichtonia released a statement announcing that Minister of Recruitment Bri Shakespeare (Bri) was being removed from his position for an undisclosed reason, but considered a significant breach by Pichtonia. Panda's Pen managing editor Calvin Coolidge, working with former President Sopo, decided to dig a little deeper and noticed that Bri's telegram count and timing had a major discrepancy, finding that he had been likely manipulating his personal telegram counts for a couple months. GraVandius, managing editor of the Europeian Research Institute (ERI), created a spreadsheet that would calculate what percentage of each recruiter's telegrams were likely false reporting (or another skip-worthy reason). While most recruiters fell into a pack around a 7 percent average, Bri was a clear outlier with a minimum of 72.8 percent "skipped" nations.
At the beginning of this several day process of discovery, then-Attorney General Drecq had not yet decided if the government would prosecute the infraction, though with the increasing evidence, Drecq eventually did decide to prosecute and and file an application for trial with the court. Drecq served as the state's prosecutor, handled by the attorney general by default, and Malashaan was appointed to serve as Bri's defense counsel, a seemingly-impossible task due to the assumed clear cut nature of the crime. However, Malashaan's defense strategy led to quite a few questions about the state of our criminal code and legal underpinnings. Regarding Bri's absence and how it affected the trial, Mal commented in a follow-up interview, "His absence made the trial shorter ... I would have still made the legal arguments I did because they would still have been his best defense, but I would have probably added an extra one more directly arguing what his intent was, rather than what the prosecution had evidence for."
Opening statements regarding the facts of the case proceeded to lay out the general strategies of the state and defense. Drecq used the data mined from Panda's Pen and ERI, as well as his own investigation, to detail the evidence against Bri, concluding with a note that the Criminal Code does not require the prosecution to prove intent, that intent is assumed unless the defense proves otherwise. Defense Counsel Malashaan opened by acknowledging the facts but stating that the prosecution was fully responsible for proving that a crime was committed and that they could only speculate as to Bri's intentions, taking clear aim at the then-current Mens Rea clause and its enforceability, which had already been subject to an advisory opinion by the court in the past.
Drecq, taking note of the defense's strategy, responded with an exposition about Mens Rea. Dividing the criminal offense into two parts, Actus Reus and Mens Rea (guilty act and guilty mind), he claimed that Actus Reus was already proven by analysis of the facts at hand, which the defense had agreed to. Proceeding to Mens Rea, Drecq noted that the burden of proof rested on the defense according to the Criminal Code and that Bri's position as minister of recruitment and his consistent skipping of nations over several recruiting sessions, months of real time, constituted sufficient proof that Bri understood the legality of his actions. In a retrospective interview, Drecq commented that "Malashaan's focus on Mens Rea was somewhat surprising in large part because it was a last ditch Hail Mary defense. Constitutional arguments almost always are."
Malashaan countered that because Mens Rea has been consistently positioned as an element of the criminal offense not as an affirmative defense, which put it at odds with the Constitutional Right of "Innocent until Proven Guilty," the assumption of intent must be unconstitutional. The Charter of Rights, section (9), states that any defendant must be proven guilty, and with Mens Rea being an element of the offense, it should be held to the same standards as Actus Reus, despite the criminal code and advisory opinion both advising otherwise. Malashaan argued that "A crime has not been proven if one of its two composite parts has been presumed. Presumption is not proof. In other words, because mens rea is an element of the alleged crime, the Charter of Rights requires that it be proven." Malashaan noted to the EBC after the trial's conclusion that "I've had concerns about [the Mens Rea clause] for a while, but thought it could probably survive. My role in the case forced me to focus on the weaknesses in it. The more I considered it, the shakier it seemed constitutionally." It should be noted here that the original advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the Mens Rea clause was originally requested by then-Attorney General Malashaan, and was ruled on by a panel of Justices, with the opinion written by then-Chief Justice Drecq.
The unique place that Mens Rea holds in our online environment is an interesting question. How much can we ever know about the intentions of others? If someone were to commit a crime and then never state that they intended to commit that crime, would our Charter of Rights assert that since their intentions cannot be proven, the prosecution cannot ever prove any crime in the future, without a confession? Attorney General Drecq seemed to be pointing to that conclusion in his follow-up statement, that due to our online forum's limitations and the fact that the Charter of Rights provides for reasonable limitations to the rights therein, that the requirement that Mens Rea be affirmatively proven by the prosecution is unreasonable. Seemingly, the ability of our government to ever prove a criminal action occurred was in question if this Mens Rea clause were to be found unconstitutional.
Judgment and Resolution
Justice Rand's judgment clarified how the region should proceed regarding this situation. He ruled that the reversal of the burden of proof was unconstitutional, agreeing with the defense's argument, negating clause (42) of the criminal code and its impact upon this verdict. However, Justice Rand then allowed that the prosecution, while it does need to prove intent, does not need to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. It is notable that our current legal system does not set up any standards of proof for legal proceedings. In most real-life instances of criminal offenses, they must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." Our online environment basically precludes this as an option, so Justice Rand allowed for a lower standard of proof for intent, settling on "as much as is plausible and reasonable given the restraints of this Republic’s online setting," finding that the prosecution did fulfill that requirement. It must be noted here that the High Court is not empowered to overturn laws by finding them unconstitutional, but they can decide to ignore a law they feel unconstitutional during proceedings of a trial, but that ruling and decision need not be followed by subsequent justices.
With this seeming crack in the law being opened, the Senate had no choice but to resolve the issue legislatively or risk future court issues with the provability of intent. Drecq provided revised wording to definitively remove Mens Rea as an element of a crime, instead placing it in a position similar to a defense. Someone may exculpate themselves by claiming they did not intend to commit the crime, but the prosecution must only prove Actus Reus to prove guilt, instead of Actus Reus and an assumption of Mens Rea, as the previous wording had provided. "Exclupate" here being a specific wording to ensure that this claim is not a defense, which could be claimed to still be contrary to the Charter of Rights, but that this claim would mitigate or remove blame despite the criminal action being proven and sufficient for conviction. This resolution is not typical for real-life situations and only applies to our unique circumstances on the forum, but does provide reasonable standards for criminal prosecution in the future.
In our follow-up interviews, Drecq noted that "for future cases, we are changing the law to preclude even the possibility of such a defense. By and large I am content with how things turned out ... even if not with every aspect of it's legal reasoning, and I am content with the change in law resulting from it." Malashaan agreed with this conclusion, noting that the revision "precludes the constitutional mens rea part of the defense." Malashaan also felt that "the statutory argument about whether there was any evidence of harm was much stronger. I don't agree with how the court handled that, but the amendment I proposed on the definition of unlawful interference with recruitment brings the statute more clearly in line with the court's holding while closing the problems it could have created." This seemingly open-and-shut case brought to light some interesting questions of constitutionality that do not often come up in our Republic. This trial and the subsequent legislative revisions resulting from it are a unique case, which shows Europeia's robust justice system in action.