In the history of the United States of America, there have been many cases when the Constitution of the country has been violated. One of the most significant cases, regarding the issue of violating the Constitution of the United States of America, is the case Schenck vs. United States. The case was heard on the third March, 1919. This essay is devoted to the analysis of the case. The essay will be divided into several parts. The first part will be devoted to the issue of the case. In this part, I will outline the main peculiarities of the case and the trial process. The second part – mens rea – the guilty mind. During the trial, it is necessary to determine and prove that a person had guilty mind, the intent to commit a crime. The second part will be devoted to actus reus – guilty act. In this part, I will analyze the actions taken by Mr. Schenck that made him violate the Constitution of the United States of America. The third part of the essay will be devoted to causation and concurrence – the last components of every crime. The last part will be devoted to the analysis of the case and its historical significance.
When the United States of America entered the First World War, the Congress of the country passed the Espionage Act (1917). The Act was legislated to prohibit any interference with military operations and recruitment. This act was aimed at preventing the support to the enemies of the country during the wartime.
Charles T. Schenck was a secretary of the United States Socialist party. The party opposed the country government and the establishing the military draft in the country. As Mr. Schenck was the secretary of the party, he was responsible for printing of leaflets. In the leaflets, the Socialist party addressed to those, who were already drafted. In the leaflets, the Socialist party asked people to resist the drafting. During the trial, it has been proved that the Socialist party printed and sent fifteen thousand leaflets.
In 1919, Charles T. Schenck was arrested, and accused in having violated the Espionage Act of 1917. In the beginning of 1919, the trial took its place. The barrister of Charles T. Schenck tried to argue that the Espionage Act violated the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. The first Amendment states that every citizen of the country has the right for free speech. On the third March, 1919, the court agreed unanimously that Charles T. Schenck was guilty. One of the judges explained that:
“Words which, ordinarily and in many places, would be within the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment may become subject to prohibition when of such a nature and used in such circumstances as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent.” (Schenck vs. United States)
Charles T. Schenck was proved guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison.
Mens rea is the inner, subjective attitude to the crime. Mens rea consists of four parts. It is significant to know all of them to evaluate Mr. Schenck’s mens rea. Relevance of motive is the first component of mens rea. It is necessary to understand whether Charles T. Schenck was intended to violate the Espionage act. The answer is – no. During the trial, the barrister of Mr. Schenck tried to prove that the Espionage Act violated the first Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Hence, it is easy to conclude that Mr. Schenck violated the Espionage Act either because he did not know about it, or because he truly believed he did anything illegal. Intention is the second component of mens rea. The intention is divided into two parts: direct and oblique. In this case, there is an oblique intention: Charles T. Schenck did not realize that he committed a crime. Recklessness is the last component of mens rea. Charles T. Schenck was not aware of the consequences. The last component of mens rea is negligence. This component if present in this case. Charles T. Schenck neglected even a slight thought that printing leaflets would be dangerous and illegal.
Actus reus is the opposite to mens rea. The term is translated as “guilty act”. Actus reus means that there should be an act that lead to committing a crime. There are two types of actus reus: act and omission. In the case Schenck vs. United States, the criminal act is present. Designing and printing leaflets was the criminal act. Such leaflets could convince some of the draft age men to stay home and not protect their country. It has been mentioned that fifteen thousand of leaflets had been printed. Hence, there is a high possibility that several hundred of men could refuse gong to the war. Such conduct could lead to strikes against the war and the United States of America participation in it. Hence, the leaflets caused the protests against the government of the country.
Concurrence and causation
When speaking about other elements of a crime, such as concurrence and causation. Concurrence is present in this case: actus reus and mens rea are simultaneous. Causation means that the guilty act had some consequences. Causation is not present in this case. The point is that Charles T. Schenck’s leaflets did not have any great impact on the society of the United States of America. Besides, he was arrested before printing new leaflets and sending them to men of draft age. Hence, in this case, there is only concurrence present. However, regardless the amount of elements present in the case, the point is that actus reus and mens rea (even some of their elements) are presented.
Analysis and Historical Impact
Igorantia legis non excusat (Ignorance of the law is no excuse). Charles T. Schenck knew nothing of the consequences the leaflets printing could cause. Perhaps, he did not know about the Espionage act of 1917 either. However, it cannot be the excuse for his acts. His barrister argued that the Espionage Act violated the first Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Indeed, the Espionage Act did not violate the freedom of speech right of every citizen of the United States of America. Charles T. Schenck did not have any right to print and send the leaflets. The point is that is such a way he sabotaged the military operation of recruiting the draft age men of the country.
The significance of the case cannot be underestimated. The case Schenck vs. United States showed that during the war some laws and freedoms might be limited. Obviously, the freedoms of the speech is one of the most significant freedoms that the United States of America gives its citizens. However, when the country is in war, such freedom should be limited. One of the judges, Mr. Holmes, argued that freedom of speech is not limited during the war. The point is that one should cautiously choose the words to say or to write. However, later, it was decided that during the war, the freedom of speech should be limited.
This essay was aimed at analyzing the case Schenck vs. United States. The essay was divided into several parts. This gave me the opportunity to analyze the case in details. The main idea is that Charles T. Schenck did not know much about the Espionage act (if he knew at least something). On the contrary, he knew about his rights and freedoms. During the trial, Mr. Schenck’s barrister argued that the Espionage Act of 1917 violated the first Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. On the contrary, it appeared to be the other way around: it was Mr. Schenck, who violated the Espionage Act of 1917. This case showed that in some cases, when the country is at war, for example, the freedom of speech might be limited. The case is rather significant in the history of criminal law of the United States of America.
Actus reus. Mens rea. Causation. Concurence. n.d. Web. 27 Feb 2014
Elements of crimes. 2011 International Criminal Court
Espionage Act 1917. N.d. Web 27 Feb 2014
Restrictions of speech during the wartime. N.d. Web 27 Feb 2014
Schenck v. United States. Syllabus. N.d. Web. 27 Feb 2014
Schenck vs. United States – 249 U.S. 47 (1919). n.d. Web. 27 Feb 2014