Why Intent Usually Matters In Criminal Cases

27 May 2020
 Categories: , Blog


Criminal intent is a common feature of how the law treats the vast majority of offenses. If you're facing charges, an important part of presenting your defense may be dealing with the intent factor. Here's what defendants should know about the role of criminal intent in cases.

Most, But Not All

There are a handful of crimes where the intent is not a factor. Possibly the most glaring in the group is statutory rape, a crime where everyone involved with the alleged offense might have been perfectly okay with what happened. Due to the fact that this offense involves a minor, intent doesn't matter. That means if an adult had sex with a 15-year-old while believing they were actually 20 years of age, it's still a crime.

In other words, don't automatically assume a lack of intent gets you off the hook. Talk with a criminal attorney to learn whether the specific charges you're facing fit in the intent model or not. You'll note, however, that these crimes usually involve instances where society is trying to avoid cheap defenses.

Why Intent Usually Matters

Here's a simple example that you could encounter on any given trip to a grocery store. A person goes out the door without paying for an item that's in their cart. Did a crime occur? It depends on the intent of the person who left with the item.

Suppose the individual deliberately snuck a high-end piece of electronics under several larger, cheap items to keep the cashier from seeing it. That's possibly a crime, although intent could be hard to prove unless the person blabbed about it.

Now, suppose the person swapped the UPC codes to get the item way cheaper. That's definitely a crime, and the intent is expressed when the person goes to the bother of changing the UPC codes.

Finally, suppose the item didn't register when the cashier scanned it, but they missed the mistake. Yes, the customer left without paying, but there's no crime there because it wasn't their intent to do so.

Intent Sometimes Lowers the Charge

The difference between murder and manslaughter often boils down to the degree of intent. If a motorist ran a pedestrian over, the behavior might have been reckless enough that a crime did occur. On the other hand, it's hard to consider that murder unless the driver aimed for the pedestrian. The difference in intent, even if a crime happened, may still at least allow a criminal law attorney to argue for a reduced charge.

To learn more, contact a criminal law attorney.