Summary of Intention (in Criminal Law)


Intentionally is often synonymous with purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.  States define intentionality differently, but the definitions more or less the same when compared with the Model Penal Code. 

A general example of intention (in criminal law) is larceny.  In order to perform larceny, the defendant needs to intentionally steal property with intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently. 


Mens Rea


Mens rea address the mental intentionality of a crime.  Mens rea was broadly defined when laws started to address criminal intent, but now jurisdictions define mens rea after it meets the requirement of intentionality, knowledge, willfully, negligence, or recklessness. 


Intention (in Criminal Law)


A defendant in intentionally cause a crime if he consciously desires to cause harm and has knowledge that their actions will cause social harm.  The best example of intentionality is murder.  The defendant intentionally commits first degree murder if the crime was premeditated.

Intent can be transferred in criminal law as well.  For example, if the defendant murdered a person and accidentally killed another person during the crime, there is transferred intent.


Willfully committing a crime applies to intentionality, but there is usually an evil or malicious motive along with intentionality. 


With Knowledge (in Criminal Law)


The concept of intentionality is applied when a defendant has knowledge that an offense is occurring or there is willful ignorance.  For example, if sexual harassment occurred in an organization and the president or an executive failed to report the incident, they may be tried for willful ignorance.  The same applies if there is a high probability of the crime and the defendant failed to notify an investigative body. 


Negligence (in Criminal Law)


Negligence is similar to intentionality because the defendant has taken a serious risk that has caused harm to another person or property.  Negligence occurs when it is probable the harm will occur from the defendant’s conduct and the defendant is still engaging in the risk.

Recklessness applies to negligence, but recklessness requires that the defendant knowingly ignored the risk of his or her actions.  The line between negligence and recklessness is not always clear, but negligence usually requires that the defendant should have known they were taking a risk.  Recklessness occurs when the defendant was undeniably certain their actions were risky. 


An example of negligence occurs in personal injury law.  For example, if a municipality is aware that a section of a walkway is damaged and could cause injury, it may have to pay the plaintiff compensation if the defendant was injured. 


An example of recklessness involves drinking and driving.  The driver knows they shouldn’t drink and drive, but if they drive drunk and injure another person during an accident, they recklessly caused a personal injury. 


There are different degrees of intention (in criminal law), but all of the degrees indicate the defendant voluntarily or involuntarily intended a crime to occur. 




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