Criminal Intent, Malice and Motives
Generally, two elements are required in order to find a person guilty of a crime: an overt criminal act and criminal intent. The requirement of an Overt Act is fulfilled when the defendant purposely, knowingly, or recklessly does something prohibited by law.
Criminal intent must be formed before the act, and it must unite with the act. It need not exist for any given length of time before the act; the intent and the act can be as instantaneous as simultaneous or successive thoughts.
A jury may be permitted to infer criminal intent from facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that it existed. For example, the intent to commit Burglary may be inferred from the accused’s possession of tools for picking locks.
Criminal intent may also be presumed from the commission of the act. That is, the prosecution may rely on the presumption that a person intends the Natural and Probable Consequences of his or her voluntary acts. For example, the intent to commit murder may be demonstrated by the particular voluntary movement that caused the death, such as the pointing and shooting of a firearm. A defendant may rebut this presumption by introducing evidence showing a lack of criminal intent. In the preceding example, if the murder defendant reasonably believed that the firearm was actually a toy, evidence showing that belief might rebut the presumption that death was intended.
Proof of general criminal intent is required for the conviction of most crimes. The intent element is usually fulfilled if the defendant was generally aware that he or she was very likely committing a crime. This means that the prosecution need not prove that the defendant was aware of all of the elements constituting the crime. For example, in a prosecution for the possession of more than a certain amount of a controlled substance, it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew the precise quantity. Other examples of general-intent crimes are Battery, rape, Kidnapping, and False Imprisonment.
Some crimes require a Specific Intent. Where specific intent is an element of a crime, it must be proved by the prosecution as an independent fact. For example, Robbery is the taking of property from another’s presence by force or threat of force. The intent element is fulfilled only by evidence showing that the defendant specifically intended to steal the property. Unlike general intent, specific intent may not be inferred from the commission of the unlawful act. Examples of specific-intent crimes are solicitation, attempt, conspiracy, first-degree premeditated murder, assault, Larceny, robbery, burglary, forgery, false pretense, and Embezzlement.
Most criminal laws require that the specified crime be committed with knowledge of the act’s criminality and with criminal intent. However, some statutes make an act criminal regardless of intent. When a statute is silent as to intent, knowledge of criminality and criminal intent need not be proved. Such statutes are called Strict Liability laws. Examples are laws forbidding the sale of alcohol to minors, and Statutory Rape laws.
Malice is a state of mind that compels a person to deliberately cause unjustifiable injury to another person. At Common Law, murder was the unlawful killing of one human being by another with malice aforethought, or a predetermination to kill without legal justification or excuse. Most jurisdictions have omitted malice from statutes, in favor of less-nebulous terms to describe intent, such as purpose and knowing.
Motives are the causes or reasons that induce a person to form the intent to commit a crime. They are not the same as intent. Rather, they explains why the person acted to violate the law. For example, knowledge that one will receive insurance funds upon the death of another may be a motive for murder, and sudden financial difficulty may be motive for embezzlement or burglary.
Proof of a motive is not required for the conviction of a crime. The existence of a motive is immaterial to the matter of guilt when that guilt is clearly established. However, when guilt is not clearly established, the presence of a motive might help to establish it. If a prosecution is based entirely on Circumstantial Evidence, the presence of a motive might be persuasive in establishing guilt; likewise, the absence of a motive might support a finding of innocence.
West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
Since 1992, the likelihood of an arrest leading to a conviction has generally risen. Although some defendants think that they can “beat the system” on their own, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side is the best way to prevent becoming another statistic.
If you are accused of a crime, your freedom, your family, your reputation, your immigration status, and your job may be at stake. The outcome you receive in the criminal justice system depends upon the experience and knowledge of the defense attorney you choose to represent you.
When you retain the law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., you do not simply retain a nationally recognized criminal defense lawyer. You retain a criminal defense team who has worked together for years and successfully represented clients in virtually every type of criminal case, including:
- Animal cruelty, such as dog fighting, cock fighting and abandonment
- Drug crimes, such as drug trafficking and Oxycodone offenses
- Fraud, such as mortgage fraud, insider trading and mail fraud
- Traffic offenses, such as DUI
- Violent crimes, such as domestic violence and battery
Contact our law firm to discuss your case in a confidential consultation.