Brief Fact Summary. This case involved an armed carjacking where the defendant threatened to harm or kill the driver if the car was not turned over. This decision focuses on the question of whether intent to cause death or serious bodily harm can be conditional.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A specific intent to commit an act can be found even where the intent is conditioned on the victim failing to comply with the defendant’s instructions.
The intent element requires the Government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant would have at least attempted to seriously harm or kill the driver if that action had been necessary to complete the taking of the car.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Does the phrase “carjacking with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm” require proof that the defendant had an unconditional intent to kill or harm in all events? or does it merely requires proof of an intent to kill or harm if necessary to effect a carjacking?
Held. No. It merely requires proof of the intent to kill or harm if necessary to affect a carjacking.
A specific intent to harm can be found where a defendant requires a victim to comply with a condition that the defendant has no right to impose and threatens harm if the victim fails to comply.
This court follows the majority conclusion that Congress, in making it a felony to carjack with the intent to cause death or serious bodily, intended to criminalize the typical carjacking whereby the carjacker steals the car by way of a threat of harm to the driver.
Where specific intent is an element of an offense, a defendant cannot negate the existence of specific intent by conditioning the prohibited act on the victim’s failure to comply with the defendant’s requests.
Dissent. Justice Scalia argues that the majority’s interpretation of specific intent goes against the customary usage of the word intent.
Scalia argues that intent, in the customary usage of the word, cannot be found where it is contingent on the happening of an uncertain event that the actor hopes does not happen. “The carjacker who intends to kill if he is met with resistance has an intent to kill if resisted; he does not have an intent to kill.”
Scalia also argues that the doctrine of conditional intent cannot be reasonably applied to all of the provisions of the criminal code and therefore the majority’s interpretation would require the court to determine for each provision of the criminal code whether or not Congress intended for conditional intent.
Discussion. This case explores the concept of specific intent. While the Model Penal Code does not use specific intent, but instead uses purpose in defining criminal acts, it’s definition of purpose is consistent with the doctrine of conditional intent.