If you’ve been charged with a crime in Raleigh, prosecutors may make a distinction: specific intent or general intent. Although committing a crime such as theft is a crime no matter what, the two categories of theft are important to delineate the severity of the crime that’s been committed. The main difference is what you were planning to do, which can directly influence the outcome of your case.
This is a crime that is committed for no other purpose than doing it. There is no intent for a specific outcome.
The term “general intent” only refers to the person’s state of mind when committing the crime requiring only the willingness to break the law. It also includes someone who commits a crime and is unaware that it is illegal.
Battery is one example of a “general intent” crime. Defined as “the intentional and harmful physical contact of another person,” the very essence of committing battery is simply to do it without any other intent. If one individual punches another, the intent is established, and the prosecution will only need to show that the assailant intended to commit battery. There is no need to prove that the assailant injured the victim, since the law assumes that the victim was injured.
As the name implies, the crime is committed with a specific purpose. There is not only a desire to commit the crime, but also the desire for a specific outcome. This requires the prosecution to prove that a defendant acted with a motive in mind when committing this action.
Using our battery example, an assailant who commits battery on another for the sole and intended purpose of causing an injury (such as a broken nose or a black eye to the victim) has committed a specific intent crime. The prosecution must then go the extra step of proving that a defendant had a motive for committing the crime.
Crimes that are considered “specific intent” include:
- Child molestation
- “Inchoate” offenses or crimes, such as conspiracy, attempt and solicitation (taking steps to and preparing to commit a crime)
Another example is auto theft. If an individual takes someone else’s car for the purpose of borrowing it or just to play a prank on the owner, it can be argued that there was no crime committed if there was never an intent to keep the car. However, if a vehicle is stolen by one individual to deprive the owner of their vehicle permanently, the crime is now considered “specific.”
A Defendant’s Mental State
There are two parts to most crimes: the “actus reus,” or the act of the crime, and the “mens rea,” the mental element or motive of the crime.
In the process of a trial, a prosecutor may be required to demonstrate the defendant’s mens rea, or the motive for committing the crime. The difference between a general and specific intent is whether the defendant committeed the actus reus and intended to achieve a specific outcome. Proving that a crime is general intent won’t require the prosecutor to show that the defendant had any specific outcome in mind, whereas a specific crime will.
Defense For Specific And General Intent Charges
There is a wide gap between general and specific intent charges, that makes a big difference when it comes to your defense. If you unintentionally committed a crime without a specific intent in mind, you could be found not guilty. But you’ll need a strong defense in order to achieve it.
Dewey P. Brinkley is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Raleigh, NC. Before working as a defense attorney, he was a Wake County Assistant District Attorney. He understands the criminal justice system, and can represent you for a wide range of criminal charges.
Call the law offices of Dewey P. Brinkley today for a free initial consultation to discuss your criminal defense case at (919) 832-0307. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use our online contact form.