Specific Intent Crime Lawyers

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What Is a Specific Intent Crime?

In a criminal law context, “intent” refers to the defendant’s mindset at the time they committed the crime. Crimes are listed according to the two basic types of intent- specific and general intent. Specific intent crimes require that the prosecution prove that the defendant had a particular purpose or intention that was driving them to commit the crime. The required motive is usually listed in the statute or code governing the crime.

For example, in a theft case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the intent to steal the object, as well as the intent to permanently deprive the person of the property. This last requirement is what makes the crime of theft a specific intent crime. If this intent is lacking, such as if the defendant did not intend permanent deprivation because the action was a part of a temporary prank, then the defendant is not guilty.

How Is a Specific Intent Crime Different from a General Intent Crime?

In contrast, with a general intent crime, the prosecution only needs to prove that the defendant intended to commit the act in question. A common example of this is battery. When proving battery, the prosecution only needs to prove that the defendant intended to commit the battery by showing that the act was not an accident. They do not need to prove that the defendant had a particular motive for committing the battery.

Whether a crime is categorized as general intent or specific intent will have different legal consequences. For example, certain defenses are only available for general intent crimes and vice versa. Generally it is more difficult to prove specific intent crimes as opposed to general intent crimes.

What Are Some Common Examples of Specific Intent Crimes?

Some examples of crimes that are listed under the category of specific intent include: 

Also note that some crimes can be classified as either a general intent crime or a specific intent crime. For example, there are two types of assault: attempted battery and creating a reasonable apprehension of harm. The first type, attempted battery is a specific intent whereas the second type is a general intent crime. Thus, they require two different burdens of proof.

Are There Any Defenses to Specific Intent Crimes?

The most common form of defense to a specific intent crime is voluntary intoxication. That is, the defendant knowingly consumed a substance that gave them a diminished capacity. This is a defense because, since they are mentally incapacitated, they are unable to form the required mental state for specific intent crimes. The intoxication is said to “negate” the required intent.

Although such defenses may be available for specific intent crimes, this does not mean that they will automatically relieve the defendant of all guilt. Sometimes the defense simply serves to lower the charge to a less serious one, for example, from 1st degree murder to a simple homicide charge.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

In all criminal proceedings, the defendant is entitled to effective assistance of counsel. If you are facing an issue regarding a specific intent crime, it is important that you contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Specific intent crimes require a complex analysis of the defendant’s motives, intentions, and mental state. An experienced criminal lawyer can help prepare your case and determine whether any defenses are available.  

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Last Modified: 01-31-2017 08:40 PM PST

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