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Mens Rea

It is widely believed that to justify punishing an individual for a particular act, the act must be accompanied by a blameworthy state of mind.

A. General and Specific Intent Crimes

Under common law, crimes were often classified as either “general intent” or “specific intent.”

1. Specific Intent

a. Defined
Specific intent crimes require that the accused intend both the criminal conduct and its particular result. For example, to be convicted of assault with intent to kill, the state must prove a defendant both intended his actions and intended for the act to result in the victim’s death.

b. Defenses
A person charged with a specific intent crime may offer evidence to show that she was unable to form the requisite intent and thus cannot be convicted.

i. Intoxication Intoxication may render a person incapable of forming a particular intent.
ii. Diminished Capacity Some jurisdictions allow a defendant to introduce evidence of diminished mental capacity that rendered him incapable of forming a requisite specific intent. See also, Ch. 8.
iii. Mistake of Fact An honest mistake of fact is a valid defense when one is charged with a specific intent crime.

2. General Intent

a. Defined
General intent crimes require only proof that a defendant intended the particular criminal act, and not the result.

b. Intoxication
Intoxication is not a valid defense to a general intent crime because drunken individuals intend their acts, although they may not realize certain consequences. See also, Ch. 8.

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