Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

In criminal law, intent refers to a person’s mental state or state of mind when they committed a crime.

Intent is an important element of many criminal offenses because it helps establish the defendant’s culpability or blameworthiness.

In general, there are two main types of intent: specific intent and general intent. Specific intent refers to a conscious desire or purpose to commit a particular crime or achieve a specific result. For example, a person who breaks into a home with the intention of stealing a specific valuable item has a specific intent to commit theft. Conversely, general intent refers to a willingness to engage in certain conduct without necessarily intending to achieve a particular result. For example, a person who drives under the influence of alcohol has a general intent to drive but may not have a specific intent to cause an accident or harm others.

In addition to specific and general intent, there is also the concept of “mens rea,” a Latin term meaning “guilty mind.” Mens rea refers to the mental element of a crime or the knowledge and intention to commit a criminal act. In many criminal offenses, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had a particular mens rea to establish guilt. For example, in a murder case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to kill or cause serious bodily harm.

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Last Modified: 03/09/2023


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