General Intent v. Specific Intent
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General Intent v. Specific Intent

General Intent v. Specific Intent

“Maxim actus not faacit reum nisi mens sit rea”, in latin this means “An act does not make one guilty unless his mind is guilty”.  In Criminal Law we are taught from the get-go that we must have a mens rea and an actus rea acting in concert to have a crime.  The mens rea is also called intent; the mental state.  There are two forms of intent; General Intent and Specific Intent.  **We will very briefly cover malice crimes here, for more information on malice see our article on homicide and arson!

It can be hard to remember which crimes are general intent crimes and which ones are specific intent.  The difference between these forms of intent can be further muddied by malice crimes.  As hard as it is to remember which crime requires general intent v. specific intent, do it!  This is a heavily tested subject on the FYLSE and one of the testers favorites for MCQ’s!

Before we get into it, let’s try an MCQ!

Deft is being tried on an indictment charging him with burglary, Deft has introduced evidence, that, at the time he broke and entered, he was so intoxicated that he could not have formed an intent to commit a felony. On the issue of whether Deft was so intoxicated that his capacity to form the necessary intent was diminished, the jury should be instructed that the burden of proof is on the:

(A) defendant to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that his capacity to form the necessary intent was diminished.

(B) defendant to establish by clear and convincing evidence that his capacity to form the necessary intent was diminished.

(C) prosecution to establish by clear and convincing evidence that Deft had the capacity to form the necessary intent.

(D) prosecution to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Deft had the capacity to form the necessary intent.

Play the recording below for the discussion and answer!

General Intent

General intent crimes can be stated simply as an intention to make the body move so as to create the act which the crime requires.  Basically, did you do the crime?  Did your body voluntarily do the action?  Snap; you qualify!

Battery – Intentional or reckless unlawful application of force to the person of the victim.

Rape – Unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent.

False Imprisonment – Intentional unlawful confinement of one person by another.

Kidnapping – False imprisonment plus asportation.

Let’s try an MCQ now:

When Dave saw his girlfriend Sally walking down the street holding hands with Abel, he was infuriated. Dave drove to Sally’s house, hid in the bushes and waited. A short time later, Dave saw Abel and Sally sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Still angry, Dave went to his car and got a pistol. When he returned, Abel and Sally were still seated at the kitchen table. Intending to scare Abel by shooting in his direction, Dave fired through the window.

If the bullet from Dave’s pistol missed Abel but struck the coffee cup Abel was holding, which of the following crimes did Dave commit?

I. Battery.

II.   Assault with a deadly weapon.

III.   Attempted murder.

(A) I only.

(B) I and II but not III.

(C) II and III but not I

(D) I, II and III.

Play the recording below for the discussion and answer!

Specific Intent

Specific intent crimes require a subjective desire, specific objective or knowledge to accomplish a prohibited act.  This is different than general intent because it adds the element of requiring there be an intention to cause the specific consequence of the act.  If you break and enter into the home of another to keep warm from the cold then you are not intending to commit a felony therein; unless they make entering homes to stay warm from the cold a felony.

Solicitation – Advising, encouraging, requesting, or commanding another to commit a felony or misdemeanor.

Conspiracy – An agreement between two or more persons with the intent to achieve an unlawful purpose or lawful purpose by unlawful means.

Attempt – An act of perpetration with the specific intent to commit a crime.

Assault – Attempted battery.

Larceny – The trespassory taking and carrying away of the personal property of another with the intent to permanently deprive.

Robbery – A larceny with force or threat of force.

Burglary – The breaking and entering of the dwelling house of another with the intent to commit a felony therein.  Here, the specific intent is to commit a felony therein.

False Pretenses – A false presentation of a material present or past fact that causes the victim to pass title to his property to the wrongdoer who 1.) knows his representation to be false and 2.) intends thereby to defraud the victim.

Embezzlement – The fraudulent conversion of the property of another by one who is already in lawful possession of it.

Try this:

Two karate students were in the same Karate class.  Knowing that the professor kept his testing planks in his office under the new uniforms, they planned to break into the office for the purpose of seeing if the testing planks were really solid or flimsy.  The first student purchased black ski masks for this purpose after discussing the purchase with the second student.  The second student contributed half of the cost of the masks.  The students went to karate class and when they saw their professor leave his office, they went to the office.  The second student opened the locked door by using a credit card to pop the latch.  Once inside the office, the first student grabbed the planks and began moving them this way and that to see if they were pliable. Of which of the following crimes may the first student be properly convicted?

(A) Conspiracy to commit burglary

(B) Conspiracy to commit larceny.

(C) Both conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit larceny.

(D) Neither conspiracy to commit burglary nor conspiracy to commit larceny.

Play the recording below for the discussion and answer!


Malice crimes require a reckless disregard of a high risk of harm. At common law, malice crimes include arson and murder.

Common Law Murder -Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being committed with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought includes the intent to kill, intent to inflict serious bodily harm, reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk (a depraved heart), or the intent to commit certain felonies. Intent to kill can be determined by conduct consistent with such an intent, such as the intentional use of a deadly weapon

Arson – Arson is the malicious burning of the dwelling of another. Malice need not be ill will, a reckless disregard is enough. A burning must be at least a charring. Most states have expanded arson laws to include non-dwelling structures. At common law the burning of one’s own dwelling is not arson.

One more:

Is Tom guilty of arson of Vic’s house?

(A) Yes, because there was smoke damage to the walls.

(B) Yes, because a burning occurred in the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.

(C) No, because arson is a specific intent crime.

(D) No, because there was no burning of any part of the house.

Play the recording below for the discussion and answer!

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