Definition - What does Scienter mean?

Scienter is a Latin word meaning "knowingly." In law, scienter specifically means knowing that one’s act or failure to act is wrong.

When proving a crime or other wrongdoing, scienter is often a necessary element that a prosecutor or plaintiff must prove before a defendant or respondent is found guilty or held liable for wrongdoing.

Justipedia explains Scienter

Scienter is rooted in common sense; it reflects the philosophical idea that a person should not be guilty of wrongdoing unless they knew what they were doing was wrong. This philosophical idea, and the practice of requiring scienter to be proven at trial, protects criminal defendants and civil respondents from liability if they did not know that their actions were wrong.

Common situations in which scienter is at issue involve distinguishing between accidents and intentional acts. For example, a person who kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk when they hit a patch of ice lacks scienter, while a person who kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk when they meant to hit the pedestrian possesses scienter.

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