All efforts to improve the criminal law of this commonwealth prior to 1972 were directed toward relatively narrow problems. Legislative changes in the law had been made from time to time, almost always without conscious regard for the manner in which related principles were affected. Defects of considerable importance resulted. The criminal law became substantially disjointed and difficult of administration. Unjust and inequitable treatment of offenders was more prominent than its opposite. In some instances sanctions were clearly inadequate for the type of behavior sought to be controlled. In others they were grossly disproportionate to the social harms used to justify their imposition. Many crimes which bad come into being through piecemeal legislation had become obsolete through the passage of time.
In its most recent session the General Assembly attempted to remedy these defects through the adoption of a comprehensive penal code. With this effort the Legislature did not content itself with a revision of statutes which had been previously enacted. It also codified much of the common law of crimes. The important changes in criminal law brought about by this legislation are literally innumerable. There is one change, however, which stands out. Without question the most significant single accomplishment of the entire Code is the clarification that has been provided the doctrine of mens rea. The confusion which previously existed in this area of the law is not totally describable.
In discussing mens rea this article has two subparts. In the first an attempt is made to describe in some detail the manner in which the four states of mind (intentionally, knowingly, wantonly, recklessly) are intended to function, with special attention given to the changes made in preexisting doctrine. The second consists of a discussion of the manner in which the culpable mental states function in relation to some other parts of the new legislation. Special consideration is given to the provision dealing with criminal causation. It is hoped that some assistance will be provided with the interpretation and application of this important part of the new Code when it becomes effective in July of 1974.
Robert G. Lawson, Kentucky Penal Code: The Culpable Mental States and Related Matters, 61 Ky. L.J. 657 (1973).