What is criminal intent?
Many crimes require intent for conviction. Intent means being aware of the natural and probable consequences of an action. Specific intent is a conscious act with the determination of the mind to do it according to Commonwealth v. Nickerson, 388 Mass. 246.
What does it mean to have intent to commit a crime?
For some crimes, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at the time of the offense the defendant intended to do some action or commit the crime itself (criminal intent).
A person’s intent is his or her purpose or objective.
How is a person's intent determined?
A decision about intent requires jurors to assess the defendant’s state of mind.
In determining intent jurors must examine a defendant’s actions or words and all of the surrounding circumstances.
Generally speaking, it is reasonable for jurors to infer that a person ordinarily intends the natural and probable consequences of any acts that he or she does intentionally. Jurors may draw such an inference unless there is evidence that convinces them otherwise.
Jurors must examine all evidence drawn in determining whether the Commonwealth has proved the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
What is specific intent?
There are two major subdivisions to the legal concept of intent: “specific intent” and “general intent”.
Specific intent is actual intent to perform some act, along WITH a wish for the consequences.
Specific intent is a conscious act with the determination of the mind to do an act. It is a kind of contemplation, rather than reflection, that must precede the act.
In other words, specific intent is a person’s purpose or objective. It means that a defendant must have consciously intended to take certain actions and certain consequences.
Specific intent comes from circumstantial evidence, since there is no way to look directly into a person’s mind.
What is general intent?
There are two major subdivisions to the legal concept of intent: “specific intent”and “general intent”.
General intent is actual intent to perform some act.
One way to describe general intent is whether the defendant intended the act to occur, as contrasted with an accident.
In determining whether the defendant acted “intentionally”, jurors are recommended to give the word its ordinary meaning: acting voluntarily and deliberately, and NOT because of accident or negligence.
It is not necessary that the defendant knew that he or she was breaking the law, but it is necessary that he or she intended the act to occur, which constitutes the offense.
Note that a judge can allow a jury to draw an inference that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of acts knowingly done. However, a judge cannot allow a jury to infer that a person is “presumed” to intend the natural and probable consequences of his or her acts, since this unconstitutionally shifts the burden of proof to the defense.
For a general intent crime, the judge may not charge the defendant’s intent as a separate element.
Is willful conduct intentional conduct?
The legal term willful once meant “bad purpose”; however it does not necessarily require that there be ill will or malevolence.
If I am intoxicated or mentally ill is there intent?
Not always. In certain circumstances alcohol or drug intoxication, or a mental condition, may negate specific intent.
For information on the legal rules of intent when alcohol or drug intoxication or a mental condition are in question, see Intoxication With Alcohol or Drugs and/or Mental Impairment Short of Insanity.
Is wanton or reckless conduct intentional?
YES, “wanton or reckless conduct” is often legally considered equivalent to intentional conduct.
For more information on the legal rules of intent when assault and battery are in question, see Assault and Battery, Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury, and/or Assault and Battery on a Police Officer or Public Employee.
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