What is a Specific Intent Crime?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingNov 11, 2019

A specific intent crime has to do with a criminal defendant's apparent intent to commit a particular crime.  For example, let's assume that the corruption we're talking about is attempted murder. To be convicted of attempted murder, one of the elements of the crime is that the defendant has to have the specific intent to kill the victim. 

So, for example, if you took the Reginald Denny case of years ago when there were the LA riots and a truck driver was pulled out of the car and beaten by multiple people, those people were captured because they were caught on camera. They were arrested and charged with the attempted murder of that truck driver.

They were all found not guilty, and the main reason was that the prosecutors could not prove they had a specific intent to kill. After all, they pulled him out, hit him, and beat him, but they stopped their attack.  They let the person live, so how could you prove they had the specific intent to kill?

Now, they may have been able to be charged with assault likely to produce significant bodily injury or a host of other charges, but not attempted murder is a specific intent crime. The reason attempted murder is a particular crime of intent is that if you get convicted of attempted premeditated murder, you're looking at fifteen to live in prison, so obviously, they're going to want to make sure that you were trying to kill the person before they hit you with such a severe sentence.

There are other specific intent crimes and a lot that pop up.  But, when you're evaluating what a specific intent crime is, you're looking at a person who had to have the clear intent to do a sure thing to be convicted of the particular crime.

Most of the crimes in criminal defense are general intent crimes, meaning if you do certain things where you had a specific intent for a certain result, it doesn't matter.  You're going to be held responsible.

For example, if you drink and drive and you hurt somebody severely as part of that drinking and driving, you will be charged with felony DUI.  If you hit somebody on the road and seriously injure them and leave the scene, you will be charged with felony hit and run.

It doesn't matter whether or not your mind was clouded in some way or you didn't have some sort of general intent.  You're going to be held responsible for the crime.  So, that specific intent is very important because usually, most specific intent crimes carry severe punishment. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review further below. 

Defenses For Specific Intent Crimes

There are some defenses to specific intent crimes.  The obvious example of security when it comes to a specific intent crime is that I didn't have the clear intent to do the particular thing that needed to be done to have a specific purpose.

Specific Intent Crimes in California

Another defense, believe it or not, is intoxication.  So, let's say you get really drunk and shoot somebody or shoot at somebody, and you're charged with attempted murder.

You could use the fact that you were very drunk to mitigate that shooting down to assault with a deadly weapon, battery causing great bodily injury or other crimes. Still, you may not be able to be convicted of attempted murder because the fact that you were so intoxicated, if it could be proved, could be used to show you couldn't form specific intent to kill because you were way too drunk.

There are cases where people are being charged with specific intent crimes in Los Angeles County, the San Fernando Valley, and the prosecutors cannot prove the case because they can't show that particular intent.

They don't have the evidence for it. A lot of times, the prosecutors don't realize they don't have the evidence because the police are booking people for certain things, the prosecutor ends up charging it, and they don't' look carefully enough to see that they're lacking the specific intent element and it's crucial.

Reviewing Your Case With a Criminal Lawyer

So, if you've got a crime where you're being charged, and you know that the police have to prove specific intent in relation to that crime, sit down with somebody like me who's been doing it twenty-five years.

Let's flush out all of the facts and figure out whether they could prove what they need to confirm — whether every element can be met, because this is one of the critical areas in criminal defense, where if they cannot prove the specific intent element of the crime, they can't prove the crime, you will be found not guilty or they must dismiss that crime or put in a lesser included offense because the specific intent cannot be met. So, pick up the phone now.  Make the call, and we'll get your case taken care of.