types of criminal intent

In New Jersey, you can’t be convicted of a criminal offense unless you committed the crime with proper intent. There are different types of criminal intent, meaning that willfully committing a crime isn’t the only way to be charged. Part of building a defense for a criminal charge is looking at the intent behind the act. Differing types of intent will alter the penalties and consequences associated. 

New Jersey Requirement of Intent

In order for a defendant to be convicted of a criminal offense, the prosecution must prove they committed the crime with proper intent. Different crimes have different levels of intent required to secure a conviction. Understanding the types of criminal intent can help you fight your charges or reduce your offenses. For example, a conviction of murder requires purposeful intent. If the defendant did not purposefully intend to kill the victim, the charges would most likely be dropped to manslaughter. While it’s still a serious crime and conviction, the penalties are lesser than those for murder.

Types of Criminal Intent

To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove that a defendant had a specific state of mind or intent when committing the crime. New Jersey uses four levels of criminal intent to determine a person’s state of mind regarding a criminal case. 


Purposeful intent is when a defendant commits an act with the express interest of causing a certain result. There is a specific intent to cause harm behind the act committed. Proving purposeful intent in court often relies heavily on motive. The prosecution has to prove that the defendant had a clear, strong motive for purposefully committing a crime. For example, if two guys get into a fight at a bar, and one says, ‘I’m going to hurt you’ before punching the other in the face, that person could be charged with battery. They willingly inflicted physical injury with the express intent of causing harm.

types of criminal intent
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Knowing intent is when a defendant commits an act and is aware of the probable consequences but is not intending to cause them. Unlike with purposeful intent, the defendant in this case has no specific motive against the victim of the crime. However, in committing the act, the defendant is aware of the potential for harmful consequences. For example, imagine a group of people out on a hunting trip. One member spots a bird on the other side of a group of their fellow hunters. In attempting to shoot the bird, the hunter accidentally shoots one of their friends instead. They can be convicted of a crime with knowing intent because they were aware that they were firing a loaded gun and knew there was a probable chance that shooting past a group of people would result in injury or death. 


Reckless intent is when a defendant commits an act with conscious disregard for a substantial, unjustifiable risk of a negative outcome. The difference between reckless intent and knowing intent is the level of certainty for harm. When proving reckless intent, the prosecution has to prove that the defendant knew of the risk. For example, most people know that firing a loaded gun around other people includes a risk of physical harm or death. However, if a defendant fired a gun but was not aware that there were people in the area, they couldn’t be convicted of reckless intent for their crime.


Negligent intent is when a defendant commits an act with a lack of awareness of the potentially harmful outcomes. However, the act committed itself still must have a general level of potential to cause harm that a reasonable person would be aware of. Take the situation with the defendant who was unaware there were people around them when firing a gun. While they cannot face reckless intent charges, they may face negligent intent charges. This is because a reasonable person would know that firing a loaded gun in an area where people are likely to be present could result in injury or death. While many crimes with negligent intent are still considered criminal cases, they aren’t as severe as charges with purposeful, knowing, or reckless intent.

Fighting Different Types of Criminal Intent Charges

Understanding the types of intent and how they affect your charges is key to building a good defense. In many criminal cases, proving intent is a difficult task the prosecution must take on. By working with a criminal defense lawyer, you can defend your case and fight against higher levels of intent with evidence and witness testimony. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can greatly help you lower your charges or even have your case dropped altogether.

Understand Types of Criminal Intent with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Attorney Leon Matchin has devoted his practice to helping his clients fight criminal charges. He knows that the types of criminal intent associated with each charge are highly important, and he has years of experience helping his clients defend against these claims. With the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney, you can defend yourself in court and help lower the penalties and consequences you might face. For help with your criminal charges, call Attorney Matchin’s office at (833) 732-7320, or email him at [email protected] to schedule a consultation as soon as possible. The sooner you have an attorney on your side, the better your chances are for fighting a criminal charge.