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What is Criminal Intent?

What is Criminal Intent?

As in most jurisdictions, Florida law recognizes two basic categories of criminal intent: general intent and specific intent. Despite some differences between the two types of intent, prosecutors must prove that the defendant knowingly and intentionally committed unlawful acts to cause foreseeable consequences in order to gain a conviction.

General Intent Crimes

As the label implies, general intent refers to generalized consciousness of foreseeable consequences which are likely to result from reckless or wanton behavior. Also known as “mens rea,” general intent is often all the state must prove to convict a defendant. Most crimes are classified as general intent offenses. A major example is Driving Under the Influence. The defendant’s mere act of getting behind the wheel after consuming an excessive quantity of intoxicants is sufficient to demonstrate general intent to drive drunk.

Specific Intent Crimes

This category of crimes requires proof that the defendant intended particularized results from his or her acts. An example of a specific intent crime is first degree murder. The prosecution must demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused intended to cause the death of a particular individual at a certain time and in a specific manner. Simply engaging in reckless behavior without regard for human life or public safety is not enough to gain a first degree murder conviction.

For instance, suppose a man goes onto a busy public street and fires a rifle at random. If he happens to strike and kill a passerby, that person most likely not be charged with murder but rather manslaughter. However, if he visits his ex-wife’s home while carrying a loaded rifle and shoots her in the forehead when she opens her front door, that is sufficient evidence of specific intent to support a first degree murder conviction.

Penalties for General vs. Specific Intent Crimes

Generally speaking, the law penalizes specific intent crimes more severely than general intent offenses. The underlying rationale seems to be that specific intent crimes typically entail malice and planning, or premeditation. This is why it is especially important for those charged with specific intent crimes to consult qualified legal counsel promptly.

Contact the Khonsari Law Group for Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you or someone you love is being prosecuted for a crime, you will want an invested criminal defense attorney fighting on your side. At the Khonsari Law Group, we will fight vigorously for your case. Call today for a free consultation.

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