Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Aberratio Ictus Definition:

Latin: the accidental harm to a person; e.g. perpetrator aims at X but by chance or lack of skill hits Y.

Related Terms: Error In Objecto, Mens Rea

In Droste v. The Queen, Justice Dickson of Canada's Supreme Court described the circumstances in criminal law in which aberratio ictus comes into play, as well as providing, through this context, the meaning of the term:

"The literature on transferred intent distinguishes between two kinds of situations in which the wrong victim suffers harm at the hands of the accused. The first, sometimes called error in objecto involves a mistake by the perpetrator as to the identity of the victim. A gunman aims at and shoots a pedestrian on the street; the assailant thought the pedestrian was X, but in fact he is Y. There is little controversy that this sort of mistake as to the identity of the victim in no way affects the fact that the perpetrator has committed an intentional crime.

"It is the second wrong victim situation, sometimes called aberratio ictus, or more poetically, a mistake of the bullet that has led to the controversy surrounding the doctrine of transferred intent. In this second situation the perpetrator aims at X but by chance or lack of skill hits Y. The appropriateness of assessing criminal liability as though the bullet had found its intended mark depends heavily upon one's evaluation of the importance of the identity of the victim as an element of the offence in question."


  • Droste v. R., [1984] 1 S.C.R. 208
  • Mayrand, A., Dictionnaire de maximes et locutions latines utilisées en droit (Montréal: Editions Yvon Blais, 2007).

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