Specific Intent Crimes: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Criminal Behavior
  • 0:34 Specific Intent vs.…
  • 2:32 Examples of Specific…
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

In some criminal cases, the defendant's state of mind while committing the crime is important. In this lesson, you'll learn about specific intent crimes and what differentiates them from other types of crimes.

Criminal Behavior

John is on trial for assaulting a co-worker. During opening arguments the prosecutor argues that John has a history of voicing his dislike for his co-worker, both inside and outside of the workplace. He's been verbally abusive in the past, and things finally got physical. John's defense team, on the other hand, argues that John is a likable guy and that the physical encounter happened in the heat of the moment. The central argument for both sides is whether John had specific intent.

Specific Intent vs. Other Crimes

There are different types of criminal behavior that can be categorized according to the criminal's state of mind. These include general intent crimes, crimes committed with malice, strict liability crimes, and specific intent crimes. Specific intent crimes are crimes that are intentionally committed to achieve a determined harmful result. In other words, a person who commits a specific intent crime does so with the purpose of hurting or harming someone else. Going back to our previous example, if the prosecution can prove that John assaulted his co-worker with the intent to cause physical harm, John would be guilty of committing a specific intent crime.

Crimes committed with malice are crimes that are similar to specific intent crimes in that the prosecution has to prove that someone acted intentionally to cause harmful injury to another. Most crimes committed with malice statutes have now been re-written to classify these crimes as specific intent crimes.

Strict liability crimes require no state of mind be proved at all. An example of this type of crime is statutory rape. In these cases, it doesn't have to be proven that a defendant knew the age of the victim, and it is not relevant whether the victim consented. The only relevant issue is that a minor is unable to legally provide consent.

Specific intent crimes are different from general intent crimes because general intent crimes simply require proof that the person who committed the crime meant to commit that crime, but the outcome of the crime is not relevant. In general intent crimes, whether the accused intended to harm someone is irrelevant. An example of a general intent crime is if someone became involved in a bar fight after drinking too much. In this type of incident, it doesn't matter whether the person entered the bar intending to cause physical harm to another. What matters is that the act of battery was intentionally committed and the outcome of that act is not relevant.

Examples of Specific Intent Crimes

Certain types of crimes fall under the umbrella of specific intent crimes. These include the following:

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