Intent All crimes in California require that the defendant have an intent to commit the crime. If you a defendant accidentally does something, he is not criminally liable. For example, if a person is walking through a park and they accidentally bump into someone, that’s not a battery. The contact was accidental. General Intent Most crimes in California require general intent. That means, the person must have intended to do what they did, but not necessarily intended to commit a crime or intended to hurt someone. For example, let’s say someone comes here from another country and doesn’t realize that drinking and driving is illegal. If that person is caught for drinking and driving, they can’t claim that they didn’t intend to break the law because a DUI is a general intent crime. It doesn’t matter if you intended to break the law – all that matters is that you purposely drank and then purposely drove. Another example would be battery. Let’s say you push someone and they fall down and break their arm. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to hurt them – what matters is that you purposefully pushed them. Specific Intent Some crimes in California require more than general intent. They require that a person have a specific mindset when committing the crime. These are called specific intent crimes. Theft is an example of a specific intent crime. The defendant must intend to “permanently deprive the owner of the property” when committing the theft. For example, if you purposely take your friend’s phone but you only intended to borrow it, that’s not theft because you didn’t intend to take it from him permanently. If you take your friend’s phone with the intention of never giving it back, then that’s theft because you intended to permanently deprive him of the phone. Sexual battery is another example of a specific intent crime. In order to commit this crime a defendant must commit touch someone in an inappropriate place with the intent to sexually gratify themselves or the other person. For example, let’s say a man intentionally touches a child on their private parts. If it’s a father bathing his child and he’s not thinking sexual thoughts, then it’s not a sexual battery. However, if an adult does have sexual thoughts while touching a another person’s private parts, then it is a sexual battery. Sexual battery requires more than just purposefully touching someone on their private parts. It requires the specific intent that person doing the touching has sexual thoughts. Negligence Very few crimes in California require mere negligence. Negligence is when a person does not intend to do something but acts so carelessly, that they are held responsible for their actions anyway. The best example of a misdemeanor that only requires negligence is involuntary vehicular manslaughter. If you are in a car accident and someone dies, you can be charged with involuntary vehicular manslaughter if the accident was even partly caused by the fact that you committed some kind of vehicle code infraction. For example, let’s say you were speeding and somebody cuts you off. You jerk your car to the right to avoid being hit, lose control of the car, crash and your passenger dies in the crash. Now, you never intended to get into an accident and you never intended for your passenger to die, but if the prosecution can show that your speeding somehow contributed to the accident or somehow contributed to your passenger dying, then you can be found guilty of involuntary vehicular manslaughter. The Right Lawyer It’s important to have a lawyer on your side that knows the different elements of each crime and knows when intent can be used as a defense. As a former Deputy District Attorney, Fred Thiagarajah has been trained in how to prove intent and now uses that knowledge to defend his clients. Contact his offices in Riverside, Orange County or Los Angeles if you have any questions regarding intent or want to discuss a criminal law case with him.