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For almost all federal crimes, prosecutors must prove that the defendant had mens rea, or a guilty mind. In the 1952 case, Morissette v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court highlighted the historical footing for this principle. “The contention that an injury can amount to a crime only when inflicted by intention is no provincial or transient notion,” the court noted. “It is as universal and persistent in mature systems of law as belief in freedom of the human will and a consequent duty of the normal individual to choose between good and evil.”

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