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Culpability is the legal responsibility for a criminal act; an individual’s blameworthiness; the quality of being culpable. Culpability also refers to the mental state (mens rea) that must be proven for a defendant to be held criminally liable.

Some states explicitly define culpability/culpable mental states in their respective Codes, while others implicitly address culpability in their mens rea provisions (see Criminal Code – By State for more information on individual states’ criminal codes). Since state culpability provisions are based on the Model Penal Code, there is very little variance between states in this particular area. See examples below:

  • Arkansas Code § 5-2-202. Culpable mental states — Definitions.
  • Colorado Criminal Code § 18-1-503.5. Principles of criminal culpability.
  • New York Penal Law § 15.05. Culpability; definitions of culpable mental states.
  • Ohio Revised Code § 2901.22. Degrees of culpability attached to mental states.
  • Texas Penal Code § 6.03. Definitions of Culpable Mental States.

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team