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Intent in Florida Law: A Breakdown

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Criminal Law

An element of nearly every law in Florida is criminal intent. Though important, few laypeople grasp how criminal intent works in Florida. Following is a deep dive on the topic of criminal intent in Florida and what you need to know about it if you find yourself charged with a crime in Florida courts.

Basics

Criminal intent is a concept that has a long history in English common law. Current English law defined criminal intent in R v Mohan [1976] QB 1 as “the decision to bring about a prohibited consequence.”

As a general proposition, intent is

  • Foreseeing that a consequence will happen if their current conduct continues, or
  • Desiring that consequence to happen.

The concept of criminal intent is that crimes that are carefully planned out are more morally objectionable than those that occur more spontaneously.

Types

The two main types of criminal intent in Florida are

  • General, and
  • Specific

General Intent

General intent crimes typically do not have language in the statute defining what intent is necessary. Therefore, the only hurdles the state has to conviction is proving that the crime happened, and that the defendant committed that crime. The mens rea (state of mind) in general intent crimes is intentional or reckless, meaning that the defendant either knew the result would happen or did not consider the result of his or her actions.

Some of the general intent crimes in Florida include

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • DUI
  • False imprisonment
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape

Specific Intent

Alternatively, specific intent crimes require the state to prove that not only did the crime occur and the defendant committed it, that the defendant intended the crime to occur.

Typically the statute defining the crime will include words like

  • Intentionally,
  • Knowingly,
  • Maliciously,
  • Purposely,
  • Willfully.

A few of the crimes that require specific intent are

  • Arson
  • Attempt
  • Burglary
  • Child molestation
  • Conspiracy
  • Embezzlement
  • False pretenses
  • First-degree murder
  • Forgery
  • Larceny
  • Solicitation

There are two classes of specific intent crimes. Firstly, some specific intent crimes are considered to be serious enough to necessitate a finer understanding of the defendant’s intent. These crimes go one step further by defining that the intent was unlawful and malicious or that it was intended to cause great bodily harm or to resist arrest.

The second class of specific intent crimes are the inchoate offenses, such as attempt and conspiracy. Although a specific crime has not occurred, the state must show that the defendant had the intent to cause that crime to happen. Absent that, a conviction of attempt or conspiracy will not be upheld.

Unconditional Intent and Conditional Intent

Unconditional intent is the defendant’s expected result from the consequences of their actions. Conditional intent describes a defendant’s expected result only when a condition diverts the defendant from their unconditional intent. The US Supreme Court has found that “intent” in a statute could mean unconditional intent, conditional intent, or both.

Purpose Intent and Knowledge Intent

Though rarely encountered, there are other forms of criminal intent, such as purpose intent and knowledge intent. In these cases, the intent element is satisfied if the state can show that the defendant acted with a criminal purpose or with knowledge that the crime would occur.

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