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Every crime requires a “criminal” intent – but this is complex issue.  This blog explains what criminal “intent” is required to be convicted of a crime in Key West.  “Intent” refers to the state of mind of a defendant at the time a crime was committed. Under the criminal code in Florida, intent is broken down into two broad categories—general intent and specific intent.  It’s important to understand the difference, because different crimes require different levels of intent.  And, consequently, some crimes are easier for the prosecution to prove than others.

General Intent

Some offenses in Florida only require general intent.  “General intent” is defined as the intentional or reckless commission of a crime, where the offender knew or was willfully ignorant of the risk and harm that his actions would cause to the victim. For example, the crime of battery only requires general intent. If an offender voluntarily punches someone, knowing that the blow could possibly harm the victim, that could be enough to prove basic intent.  Note, it’s not required that the offender intend to harm the victim, specifically – it’s only necessary that he intended to commit the action (e.g. throwing a punch).

Specific Intent

To prove specific intent, the prosecutor must show that the offender committed an act with the intention of creating a certain outcome. For example, in a theft case, the prosecutor would need to prove that the accused took possession of property that didn’t belong to them but that they did so with the intention of willfully depriving the rightful owner of the property.   Here are some examples of crimes that require that specific intent be present to get a conviction:

It is more difficult to prove specific intent than it is to prove general intent.  And, once specific intent is proven, there are fewer defenses for the accused. However, when successful defenses exist they mostly serve to reduce the amount of punishment a defendant may face by lowering the charge to a lesser degree. For example, mental incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol may be a defense to a first-degree murder charge (which requires specific intent), but it won’t result in the accused going free, as the case may result in a reduced charge, such as manslaughter.

Specific vs. General Intent

The issue of specific intent and general intent is very specific to the course of events in a particular case.  If a defendant got into a road rage confrontation on the highway, rammed someone’s car and caused that person to get into a deadly accident—specific intent would be present. However, if that same defendant had rammed another vehicle, not because they were angry and seeking retaliation but because their brakes failed and they loss control of their car, no specific intent would present. However, if the defendant knowingly drove with faulty brakes, rammed a car, and caused the other driver to get into a deadly accident, general intent would be present, since the defendant intentionally drove with faulty brakes.

Understanding how intent can impact your criminal case is important. Sentencing for those offenders convicted of specific intent crimes is significantly higher than people convicted of general intent crimes. Speak with an experienced Key West criminal defense attorney today about the details of your case.

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