Being charged with a criminal offense is a frustrating and often confusing time. Working with a criminal defense attorney, however, can help you gain a better understanding of your charges and the possible defenses for your case. A defense attorney can explain the type of criminal charge you face, define specific intent, and help you understand the evidence against you. There are a lot of parts to a criminal offense charge, and knowing what applies to your case is key to defending it.
Types of Criminal Offenses
When charged with a criminal offense, your case will fall into one of three main categories. Each is handled differently in the court of law and requires a different approach to properly defend.
Also known as felonies, indictable offenses are the highest criminal charge you can face. Before an indictable offense case can even go to trial, there is often a preliminary hearing. During this hearing, a grand jury will examine the evidence provided by the prosecution to determine if there’s enough evidence to take the case to court. Even if the jury moves the case forward, that doesn’t automatically mean a conviction will follow.
Indictable offenses come in four degrees, with fourth-degree indictable offenses being the least extreme (such as minor drug charges) and first-degree indictable offenses being the most extreme (such as murder or armed robbery). Most indictable offenses require a minimum jail sentence time if convicted.
Disorderly Persons Offenses
A disorderly persons offense is not as severe as an indictable offense, but it can still carry hefty penalties, including potential jail time. Regular disorderly persons offenses include acts such as:
- Disorderly Conduct
However, petty disorderly persons offenses include acts such as harassment and fighting and aren’t as severe as their counterparts.
Traffic offenses are handled a little bit differently in court, mainly because they often involve license point additions or even driver’s license suspensions. A traffic offense charge could also be paired with another type of criminal charge, depending on the situation. For example, if you face DUI charges, you could also face an indictable offense charge if you had a child passenger in the car with you.
General vs. Specific Intent
When charged with a criminal offense, your case will either be treated with general or specific intent. The intent behind your charge is vital when it comes to defending your case. A general intent charge is much easier to defend and typically has lower charges than a specific intent charge.
Define: General Intent
General intent is a crime in which the defendant meant to take criminal action without intending the aftereffects. An example of a general intent crime is battery. Unlike assault, battery is simply the use of force or violence, regardless of intent. If someone punches another person, even if they didn’t intend to cause physical harm, they can be charged with battery. Because the defendant did not explicitly intend to cause harm or damage from their actions, the penalties for general intent crimes are often less severe.
Define: Specific Intent
Specific intent is a crime in which the defendant meant to take criminal action and intended for the aftereffects to occur. A battery, for example, becomes an assault if the person throwing the punch intended to do harm. Proving specific intent isn’t always easy. The prosecution must provide evidence of motive for the crime and the defendant’s knowledge and understanding of the effects at the time the crime was committed. Although difficult to do, if the court can prove specific intent, penalties are much more extreme.
Types of Specific Intent
Outside of general or specific intent, there are four categories of intent for criminal charges.
Knowing – Knowing intent is much the same as general intent. In these cases, a defendant is aware of the potential consequences of an act but does not perform the act with the intent of causing those consequences. For example, if you punch someone, it’s possible you may break their nose. Even if you did not intend to break their nose, you still acted with knowing intent.
Purposeful – Purposeful acts are the least extreme types of specific intent, in which a defendant is aware of the potential consequences and acted with intent to cause them. For example, punching someone specifically to give them a black eye can be a purposeful act.
Reckless – Reckless intent is when a defendant is aware of the potential consequences of their actions but consciously disregards them. For example, getting into a fight in a crowded area has the potential to involve innocent bystanders in the assault. Ignoring this as a potential consequence and accidentally hitting someone could be a reckless act.
Negligent – A negligent act is when a defendant fails to understand the potential negative consequences of their actions, whereas any reasonable person would be aware of the risks. For example, most reasonable people would know that firing a weapon in public has the potential to cause harm to others. If a defendant fired a weapon in an open park, not aware that someone was nearby, and hit another person, they could face negligent act charges.
How a Lawyer Can Help You Understand Your Charges and Specific Intent
Understanding your criminal charges is necessary if you want to build a strong defense and have your charges reduced or dropped. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charge you face. They can define specific intent, and explain which defenses could work best for your charges. If you need help fighting a criminal charge, trust Attorney Leon Matchin to defend you in court. His years as a criminal defense attorney have given him the knowledge and experience needed to understand and fight any criminal charge you may face. Call Attorney Matchin today at 732-887-2479, or email him at [email protected] for a consultation about your case.