Violence or criminal activities in our dreams can often cause stress and anxiety, and in the most extreme instances, a criminal dream can show a person’s desire or guilt, or the fear of being accused of a crime that has not yet been committed. However, can our unconscious thoughts when we are sleeping amount to preparation for a crime which we intend to commit? At what point do thoughts of crimes move from our innermost impulses to becoming admissible in considering to commit a crime?

Intention to Commit a Crime

“Mens rea”, Latin for “guilty mind”, is the mental element of a person’s intention to commit a crime; or knowledge that one’s action or lack of action would cause a crime to be committed, which is a necessary element of many crimes and a feature in the area of criminal law in many jurisdictions across the globe. Within the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China (revised in 2017), we can better understand how the mens rea is determined within mainland China, in “Section 1: Crimes and Criminal Responsibility”.

Therein, article 14 specifies, “An intentional crime refers to an act committed by a person who clearly knows that his act will entail harmful consequences to society but who wishes or allows such consequences to occur, thus constituting a crime”. Thus, criminal responsibility shall be borne for intentional crimes.

Article 15 goes on to outline instances in which accused assailants fall short of acquiring the necessary mens rea for an “intentional crime”, defining instead a negligent crime as, “an act committed by a person who should have foreseen that his act would possibly entail harmful consequences to society but who fails to do so through his negligence or having foreseen the consequences, readily believes that they can be avoided, so that the consequences do occur”. Criminal responsibility in such cases shall be borne only when the law so provides, therefore the threshold is lower.

Finally, Article 16 stipulates that an ‘act is not a crime if it objectively results in harmful consequences due to irresistible or unforeseeable causes rather than intent or negligence”, effectively alleviating persons who have unintentionally caused a crime to occur due to unpredictable consequences from their actions/inaction.

Therefore we can effectively surmise that even if we have vivid dreams in which we plan out a crime which we intend to commit in the future, we would not have garnered the necessary mens rea in order to trigger criminal intention.

Preparation to Commit a Crime

Moving beyond one’s dreams, should a person possess the necessary mens rea or “guilty mind” to commit a crime as per the aforementioned, what would be the next steps in assessing their behaviour as constituting a crime in this jurisdiction?

An assailant who prepares the instruments or the creation of the conditions for a crime (e.g. buys the murder weapon, organises a robbery), may, in comparison with one who completes the crime, be given a lighter or mitigated punishment or be exempted from punishment.

Moving one step further to criminal attempt, where an offender has already started to commit a crime but is prevented from completing it for reasons independent of their will, they may also, in comparison with one who completes the crime, be given a lighter or mitigated punishment.

Finally, if a person is in the course of committing a crime and voluntarily discontinues the crime, or voluntarily and effectively prevents the consequences of the crime from occurring, provided no damage is caused, they may be exempted from punishment or, if any damage is caused, be given a mitigated punishment.

There are conceptual instruments in place as well as many necessary steps prevalent in the criminal law which prevent our dreams and thoughts of criminal activity from coming into the realm of the legal culpability. However, in saying that, taking further steps in the preparation of a crime or even attempting to carry out a crime, may bring about criminal liability. “Follow your dreams” goes the famous motivational saying, but if your dreams involve criminal actions…

DISCLAIMER This article is intended solely for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Although the information in this article was obtained from reliable, official sources, no guarantee is made with regard to its accuracy and completeness. For more information please visit or WeChat: dandreapartners