Intent is defined as a guiding motive. When it comes to crime, criminal intent refers to an unlawful guiding motive. An individual is often found guilty of a crime, when they commit an act that is driven by an unlawful motive. However, it is possible for someone to commit the same crime, but due to lack of criminal intent, not be found guilty.
Crimes are classified according to two types of intent: specific and general intent. The main difference between the two is if the defendant intended the conduct and the result or only the conduct.
What is General Intent?
General intent crimes don’t require proof that a person intended to cause the harm or the result that occurred. Rather, the prosecution only needs to prove the defendant intended to commit the act and that it wasn’t an accident.
Example: Battery is a general intent crime because it is defined as “the intentional and harmful physical contact of another person.” The intent element is satisfied if the defendant intends to cause harmful physical conduct and actually does so. It doesn’t matter if the defendant intended to seriously injure or hurt the other party. If Joe punches John in the face after John says something offensive and breaks his nose, John most likely committed battery. The prosecution only has to show that Joe intentionally punched John, they don’t need to prove if Joe intended to hurt John, since the law assumes as much.
What is Specific Intent?
Specific intent means that an individual committed an act with a specific purpose. The prosecution must prove that the defendant had a motive for their actions. The requisite intent is listed in the statute or code governing the crime.
Determining specific intent in criminal law relies on the mental state, or mens rea, that an individual has when committing a crime. The defendant’s mental state can’t be inferred from merely doing the act. There must be a specific reason or objective. However, many times the prosecution can only prove the actions of the accused and fail to provide proof of mens rea.
Specific intent crimes include:
- Inchoate Crimes (attempt, solicitation, conspiracy)
Example: Auto theft is defined as the act of taking a car with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently. In an auto theft case, the prosecution must prove that defendant intended to steal the car, as well as the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it. Joe stole John’s car as a part of a harmless prank, thus Joe didn’t have intent to deprive Joe of his car permanently. Since he didn’t have this specific intent, Joe cannot be convicted of the crime.
Does it Make a Difference?
The distinction between specific and general intent crimes makes a huge difference when it comes to defense. If you are charged with a specific intent crime, the prosecution must prove that not only did you commit the crime, but that you also had the purpose to cause the result that is listed in the definition of the crime. If you committed the crime but didn’t have the specific intent required, this can be used a valid defense for the crime, and you cannot be found guilty.
If you have been convicted of a crime, Marlboro criminal defense lawyer Leon Matchin can help. Call today for a free consultation. (732) 662-7658