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A Brief Overview of Criminal Intent

January 29th, 2018 at 7:53 pm

criminal intent, malice aforethought, Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney, Illinois criminal law, Illinois criminal casesCriminal intent (or mens rea) is an important legal concept to understand if you are going to stand trial for committing a criminal offense as the prosecution is required to establish mens rea (i.e. that the defendant had a guilty mind) in order for the defendant to be found guilty in many criminal cases. Depending on the severity of crime that was allegedly committed, the prosecution will need to prove that the defendant acted intentionally and possessed one of the following types of criminal intent when the illegal act was committed: malice aforethought, specific intent, or general intent.  

Malice Aforethought

Malice aforethought is the state of mind that is necessary in order to prove the most serious types of homicide. An individual possessed malice aforethought if he or she intended to kill or to cause great bodily harm. Malice aforethought is critical in homicide cases as this distinction in criminal intent is the key difference between murder and malice as murder is an unlawful killing that is committed with malice aforethought while manslaughter is an unlawful killing that does not involve malice aforethought.    

Specific Intent

In order to obtain a conviction for the most serious criminal offenses, apart from murder, the prosecution is required to show that the defendant specifically intended to cause a certain bad result, to do something more than commit the criminal act for which he or she is on trial, or acted with the knowledge that his or her conduct is against the law. Therefore, an individual is typically said to have acted with specific intent if he or she intentionally committed an unlawful act with the desire to cause a particular outcome.   

General Intent

General intent is similar to specific intent as they both require the defendant to have acted intentionally; however, if the defendant did not do something more than the criminal act itself nor did he or she act with the additional desire to cause a certain result, then he or she likely acted with general intent. In other words, an individual acts with general intent if he or she meant to do an act that is prohibited by law.

Specific Intent vs. General Intent: Which One?

It should be noted that criminal law statutes do not always specifically state whether an individual is required to have possessed specific or general intent in order to be convicted of committing the crime at hand. If the statute does not spell out the requisite level of criminal intent, then the court will determine whether the crime requires general or specific intent by looking at the language used in the statute. For example, if the statute uses terms like “voluntarily” and “knowingly” then the crime will often be considered a general intent crime.   

Contact a Local Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal law is complex and as such anyone who has been charged with a crime and is looking to retain legal counsel should take care to hire a local criminal defense lawyer who has extensive experience handling criminal cases. Talented Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney Christopher Cosley is just such a lawyer. If you have been charged with a crime in Illinois and live in the greater Chicago area, feel free to contact the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley at your earliest convenience to schedule an initial consultation with Mr. Cosley to discuss your legal options.


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