Scienter Law and Legal Definition

Scienter is defined as a mental state embracing intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud. South Cherry St., LLC v. Hennessee Group LLC, 573 F.3d 98 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2009 Scienter means to have guilty knowledge. An act is done "knowingly" if done voluntarily and intentionally, and not because of mistake or accident or other innocent reason. It is an element required to be proven in certain crimes.

The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted First Amendment related obscenity and child pornography laws, and has construed the federal statutes to require scienter of the nature and character of the contents of the material which is the subject of the charge. In a charge of distribution of child pornography, the defendant need not have specific knowledge as to the actual age of the underage performer, but the defendant must have had knowledge or reason to know, or an awareness or notice, or a belief or ground for belief warranting further inspection or inquiry, that the material contains a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.