General and Specific Intent


Intent is a mental attitude that a person acts. This cannot be proven but can be inferred from the facts and circumstances surrounding the issues. This shows that it refers to the state of mind that leads to the act being done. This paper will look at the difference between general and specific intent. 

General intent is required when the prosecution needs to prove that the person who is accused meant to do an act that is prohibited by law (Slovenko, 52). This does not matter whether the defendant intended to have the results of the act. General intent crimes do not require proof that the aim of a person was to cause harm. What should be proven is the defendant intending to commit the crime. This will show that it was not an accident. Specific intent crimes are where the defendant commits an act for particular results according to Lippman (48). The prosecution should prove that when the act was committed there was an intended purpose. The motives of the actions of the defendant for their actions must be proven. This mostly relies on the mental state or mens rea that a person has when committing the crime.  

The difference between general and specific intent comes about in the defense (Fletcher, 23). When charged with specific intent crimes, the government has to prove that a person had the purpose and was included in the definition of the crime. The courts determine the intent element of a crime by following general rules like using the terms voluntarily and knowingly.  

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  1. Fletcher, George, “Rethinking Criminal Law.” Oxford University Press, 2000.
  2. Lippman, Mathew, “Essential Criminal Law.”  SAGE Publications, 2013.
  3. Slovenko, Ralph, “Psychiatry in Law / Law in Psychiatry,” Second Edition. Taylor & Francis, 2009.
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