One way that crimes are categorized in the criminal justice system is by an alleged perpetrator’s intent – was it a “specific” intent or a “general” intent? Exactly what is the difference between specific and general intent, and what can that difference mean if you are charged with a crime?
If you’ll continue reading, you’ll learn the answers to those questions, and you’ll also learn how an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer will advise and represent you if you are charged with a specific intent crime here in southern California.
Specific intent describes an alleged perpetrator’s conscious and willful intent to commit a crime. If you are charged with a specific intent crime, the state will contend that you both committed the crime and that you consciously and willfully intended to commit the crime.
HOW CAN SPECIFIC INTENT BE DEFINED?
If you did not commit an act with specific criminal intent, in many cases, there’s no crime.
For example, if you go into a store and you intend to shoplift a particular item, it’s a specific intent crime, but if you become distracted, forget to pay for the item, and absent-mindedly walk out of the store with it, it’s not a crime – provided that you pay for or return the item.
In other words, when a person desires to commit a particular crime for a particular reason and then does so, it is a specific intent crime.
IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A CRIME, WHAT’S THE FIRST STEP TO TAKE?
If you are charged with any crime – any felony or misdemeanor – in southern California, it is imperative to seek legal advice and representation immediately and contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney. Your future and even your freedom could be at risk.
As you know, to convict you of a crime, the prosecution must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so a key part of any defense attorney’s task is to cast doubt on the state’s evidence and witnesses.
WHAT ARE THE STANDARD DEFENSES AGAINST SPECIFIC INTENT CHARGES?
Depending on the facts and details of the case and the charge against you, your criminal defense lawyer may offer one of these standard defenses if specific intent is part of the charge:
- Another person actually committed the crime.
- The defendant committed the act but had no specific criminal intent.
- The entire incident was a mistake or a misunderstanding.
- No crime in fact happened, and the defendant is the victim of a false accusation.
When specific intent is part of a criminal charge, the state is alleging that the defendant knew what the consequences of his or her criminal act would be and wanted those consequences to happen.
IS INSANITY A LEGAL DEFENSE TO A SPECIFIC INTENT CHARGE?
However, if a defendant did not understand the significance or implications of his or her behavior, there may be no specific intent – and possibly no crime.
In some cases, the defense may be able to demonstrate that a defendant could not understand the implications of his or her actions because of that defendant’s mental or psychological illness or injury. In some cases, the defense will be insanity, which is defined in two ways in criminal law:
- Clinical insanity, when offered as a criminal defense, is a diagnosed mental disorder that the defendant can prove with medical documentation and expert testimony.
- Temporary insanity induced by the situation and conditions at the time of the alleged crime can also be offered as a legal defense.
Criminal defendants need to understand clearly that if either form of insanity is presented as a defense to a criminal charge, a California judge has the discretion to order psychiatric counseling or treatment if the case results in a conviction.
CAN INTOXICATION BE USED AS A DEFENSE?
Intoxication is also sometimes offered as a defense against a criminal charge that includes specific intent. It is possible that a person can drink or take drugs to the point where that person does not at that moment fully understand the consequences of his or her actions.
In some cases, the intoxication defense can transfer the responsibility for a criminal action from a defendant to an establishment that supplied alcohol to the defendant. However, California dram shop laws give businesses substantial legal protection in these cases, with few exceptions.
In some cases, the police and the state simply don’t have the full story. If someone gives you stolen property, doesn’t tell you that the property is stolen, and you believe that the person who gave you the property acquired it legally, you can’t be convicted for receiving stolen property.
Of course, if such a case goes to trial, a jury would have to believe your story. It helps when your story is in fact the truth and when that story is told by an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney.
HOW DOES THE “JUSTIFICATION” DEFENSE WORK?
“Justification” is also a defense in specific intent cases. With the defense of justification, the defendant is admitting that he or she in fact did commit a certain action, but the defendant is also claiming that the reasons for the act were not criminal, and therefore no crime was committed.
Perhaps the best example of the justification defense is when a murder or manslaughter defendant claims that he or she in fact committed a killing – but in self-defense or in the defense of another person.
WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE TAKEN INTO POLICE CUSTODY?
If you are placed under arrest and charged with any crime in southern California:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to have your attorney present during any questioning.
WHAT WILL A DEFENSE ATTORNEY DO ON YOUR BEHALF?
If you are charged with a specific intent crime, you must be represented by an experienced defense lawyer with a reputation for legal excellence and a record of success on behalf of clients. A good defense attorney will:
- carefully review and scrutinize the state’s case against you
- seek to have the charge or charges lowered or entirely dismissed
- interrogate witnesses and compile evidence on your behalf
- bring the case against you to its best possible resolution
If you’re charged with any misdemeanor or felony in southern California, you must reach out at once to an experienced California defense attorney for the sound legal advice and aggressive defense representation that you are very much going to need. Your future will depend on it.