Intent Crimes: What Do They Mean for You?
With certain crimes, to get a conviction, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant not only committed the criminal act but also intended to commit a certain harm.
These crimes are known as “specific intent crimes” because specific intent is a required element of the crime. With such an offense, the act alone is not enough to be a crime if the defendant committed it accidentally or without having certain information. For the crime to have occurred, the defendant must not only have committed the unlawful act but also done it with wrongful intent – whether by intentionally performing or failing to perform a required act.
Different Intent for Different Crimes
The defendant’s state of mind and criminal intent comprise the mental element of a specific intent crime. Different crimes have different requirements as to intent, which are laid out in the state statutes. With forgery, for example, a person is only guilty of the crime if he or she acted with the intent to defraud. Other language is used to specify different intent requirements for different crimes, including terms such as knowingly, willfully, purposely, with recklessness, and with malice aforethought (as in first-degree murder).
Examples of Specific Intent Crimes
Specific intent crimes are associated with “mens rea,” a Latin term that literally means guilty mind. It refers to the state of mind required by law to have been present at the time of the crime for a prosecutor to convict a defendant of that particular crime. Specific intent crimes in California include:
- First-degree murder
- Certain child sex crimes
- Felony arson
General Intent Crimes
When a general intent crime is alleged, the prosecution only has to show that the defendant committed the criminal act. It is not necessary to show that the defendant intended for the act to produce a specific result. General intent crimes are associated with “actus rea,” the Latin term for actions crime. Examples of general intent crimes include reckless arson, battery, assault, rape, manslaughter, and driving under the influence.
Advantages of Specific Intent During Trial
For specific intent crimes, California Penal Code spells out exactly which mental state the perpetrator must have been in at the time for that crime to have been committed. Some crimes require malice, while others require intention, and still others require only negligence or recklessness. The prosecution must prove every element of a crime to convict you.
Although the evidence may be straightforward as to whether or not a criminal act was committed, it is not always that simple for a prosecutor to prove it was committed with the requisite criminal intent. A common defense for a defendant accused of a specific intent crime is to assert that he or she did not act with the intent stated in the applicable statute.
Defending Against Intent Crime Charges
If you have been charged with a crime, your best course of action is to speak with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. When you come to Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP for legal representation, we will argue on your behalf, using all applicable legal defenses, and show when the prosecutor has not proved every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are charged with a crime requiring specific intent, we can assert that you did not have the intent required by statute at the time the unlawful act occurred.
Penalties for certain crimes in California can be severe. Contact our firm at (213) 688-0460 if you are facing specific intent criminal charges. We can discuss defense strategies during your complimentary consultation.