Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

What is Criminal Intent?

A Mississippi man who recently landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport for a trip to Maine was arrested after he was found loading rounds into his pistol. The state police report that the man was placed under arrest for taking his firearm out of a previously checked bag that was curbside at a terminal. Several travelers who saw the incident immediately contacted 911. The man was soon afterward placed under arrest by state law enforcement. The police stated that the man lacked any criminal intention, but selected a poor time to check on his firearm. The man was ultimately charged with possession of a firearm without a firearm identification card as well as disturbing the peace and possession of ammunition without a firearms ID. 

Criminal intent is a complex phrase about which many people charged with criminal offenses have questions. “Mens rea” is the Latin term used to refer to criminal intent, which must be established beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal offense convictions. In criminal cases, to show a defendant  is guilty, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had criminal intent to commit the crime in question. 

Offenses of a criminal nature that do not require proof of a person’s intent are referred to as “strict liability” offenses. The prosecution is not required to establish any level of criminal intent for these crimes. In most cases, criminal offenses require a culpable mental state, but some crimes can be charged despite a person’s intent.

Types of Criminal Intent

Criminal intent refers to a person’s state of mind at the time that the individual commits a criminal act. A person who makes a conscious decision to do something prohibited by law is said to have criminal intent. This means that a person is aware that their behavior is wrong and that they can be subject to punitive consequences, but the person proceeds anyway. The law mentions four types of criminal intent, which include:

  • Willful or purposeful, which involves a person who is aware of their behavior but wants to see the result of their actions

  • Knowing the results that can occur from an act, but not necessarily having the purpose to cause the consequences of the action

  • Recklessly disregarding the results of an action

  • Negligently failing to behave as a reasonable person would in such a situation and leading to others being harmed

General vs. Specific Intent

Criminal law separates criminal intent as “specific” and “general” intent. To establish specific intent is similar to establishing purposeful criminal intent. This means that a person must be shown to have intended a criminal act as well as the act’s results. Meanwhile, general intent only requires a person to have the intent to commit a criminal offense. 

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

Following a charge or conviction for a criminal offense in Massachusetts, people are often left uncertain about what to do. One of the best steps you can take in such a situation is to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Schedule a free case evaluation with Attorney Edward R Molari today.