In order to be convicted of most crimes, the defendant must have committed the crime while possessing a specific state of mind. Another way to put it would be that in order to commit a crime, the defendant must have acted with intent. The one exception to this rule would be when then defendant is charged with a “statutory” offense, such as statutory rape.

As such, in order to convict a defendant for a statutory crime, the prosecution must simply prove that the defendant committed a certain act. Intent is considerably irrelevant when associated with statutory crimes.

There are different kinds of intent. An example of this would be how intent may be general, meaning that the defendant must be aware of the factors constituting the crime. Additionally, they must have the desire to commit the criminal act.

Some specific crimes require more than this basic level of intent in order to produce a conviction. These crimes require what the law refers to as “specific” intent. In order to act with specific intent, the defendant must have not only the desire to commit the wrongful act, but also have the desire to achieve a certain result by committing the wrongful act.

What Is General Intent?

A defendant is considered to have acted with general intent when they are generally aware of the factors of the crime and, having such awareness, proceed to commit the crime. In such cases, the jury is allowed to draw a conclusion based on the fact that the defendant had the general intent to commit the offense, solely because they committed the act.

Some of the most common examples of general intent crimes include, but may not be limited to:

  • Battery;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Kidnapping; and
  • Forcible rape, as opposed to statutory rape.

These crimes are categorized and known as crimes against the person. To elaborate:

  • To commit battery, the defendant must apply unlawful force to another person which results in injury or an offensive touching. According to this definition, the defendant does not need to desire to achieve a specific result in order for them to be considered guilty;
  • To commit false imprisonment, the defendant must unlawfully confine another person without that person’s consent to do so. Similar to battery, the crime is complete when the act has been committed; meaning, the defendant did not need to desire that another person be unlawfully confined. The defendant has committed the crime simply by confining the other person without their consent to being confined;
  • To commit kidnapping, the defendant must commit the act of false imprisonment. Additionally, they must either move the victim or conceal the victim in an unknown or secret location. The criminal act of kidnapping has taken place upon completion of the false imprisonment, as well as moving and/or concealing; and/or
  • In order to commit forcible rape the defendant must have had intercourse, without the victim’s consent, accomplished either by:
    • Force; and/or
    • Threat of force; and/or
    • When the victim is unconscious.

Once again, the defendant does not need to have a desire to achieve a specific result in order for them to be considered guilty of committing forcible rape.

What Is Meant By Specific Intent?

A defendant is said to have acted with specific intent when they intend to commit the offense, and also desires to achieve a certain result. General intent crimes generally consist of theft crimes, which commonly include larceny and robbery.

In order to commit larceny, the defendant must take and carry away the personal property of another person, with the intent to steal this property. To be convicted of larceny, the defendant must not only desire to commit the act but must also desire, or specifically intend, to achieve a certain result. In this case, the certain result would be that the property of the victim is stolen so that the victim no longer owns the property.

In order to commit robbery, the defendant must commit larceny in addition to stealing the personal property from another’s person or presence. This must be done by force, or by the threat of immediate injury. In order to be convicted of robbery, the defendant must not only desire to commit the act of robbery but also must specifically intend to steal the personal property in order to deprive the victim of ownership.

Is There A Difference Between Specific Intent And Motive? Can Intent Be Transferred?

Specific intent and motive are two separate and distinct concepts. Motive is the reason or explanation for a crime, meaning that motive is different from the intent to commit the crime. Another way of saying it is that motive differs from intent. Motive is the “why” of a crime that was committed. Generally speaking, the existence of motive is not required in order to obtain a conviction for a criminal offense.

While the existence of motive may be relevant to assessing the defendant’s credibility, or truthfulness, when testifying motive is not a specific element in terms of a particular criminal offense. This remains true whether that offense is a general intent crime, a specific intent crime, or a statutory crime.

According to the legal concept of “transferred intent,” a defendant may be found guilty of an offense if the defendant has the specific intent to commit a crime that occurs; however, the victim or object is not the intended victim or object.

An example of this would be if a defendant intends to shoot and kill a person, but instead accidentally shoots a different person. The defendant could be found guilty of the murder of the other person, as murder is a specific intent crime which requires an intent to kill. When the “wrong” victim is murdered, the intent to kill is said to have “transferred” from the intended victim to the actual victim.

What Else Should I Know About Criminal Law In General?

The only two bodies that can bring a criminal case against someone would be the federal government or a state government. Whether the defendant is charged in federal court or in a state court depends on what crime they are being charged with, as well as where the alleged offense occurred. Although every state has their own set of criminal laws, there are certain Constitutional rights which apply to every defendant, no matter what that crime is or where it happened.

Examples of these include:

  • Right To A Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment gives a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial, in order to prevent them from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
  • Right To A Jury: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury, although many jurisdictions allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, where guilt is determined by a judge;
  • Miranda Rights: Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney, whether or not they can afford one, in order to aid in their defense; and/or
  • Protection Against Self-Incrimination: Also known as “pleading the fifth,” a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Issues With Criminal Intent?

If you have been arrested for either a general intent crime or a specific intent crime, you should consult with an experienced and local criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can advise you regarding rights and options according to your state’s specific laws regarding the matter. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.