Man arrested for shooting into an occupied dwelling

General vs. Specific Intent Crimes in NC

By Joel Hancock

Sometimes things happen that you didn’t mean to have happened. This sometimes even includes the outcome of criminal actions. While some people want to commit a crime, others want to commit a crime for the purpose of having something happen. This is the difference between general intent and specific intent respectively. 

Regardless of your full intentions, a crime is still a crime no matter what. However, it’s still important to decipher whether the crime that you committed was done with general or specific intent, as it can greatly impact the outcome of a criminal case

General Intent

When someone commits a general intent crime it means that they committed the crime for the sake of committing the crime. In other words, the person who committed the crime was not doing it in order to achieve a specific outcome. 

Intent relates to the state of the mind of the accused while he or she was committing the crime. General intent only requires that someone had the intent to break the law or that he or she committed a crime even without knowing it was illegal. 

A good example of a general intent crime is battery, which is “the intentional and harmful physical contact of another person.” This means that if someone intends to commit battery, which in itself is the crime without any other intent. Battery does not require that the individual intended to harm the victim; simply that he or she meant to commit battery. 

Specific Intent

Unlike general intent, crimes that require specific intent are those that are committed with a specific purpose in mind. Not only does the individual mean to commit a crime, but also he or she intended for that crime to create a certain outcome. For example, with battery, someone who throws a book at someone else is guilty of general intent battery. Alternatively, someone who throws a book at someone else with the intent to cut him or her would be considered guilty of a specific intent crime. To prove specific intent crimes the prosecution must be able to prove the motive with which the defendant acted. This can often be quite challenging since we can’t be in anyone else’s head.

Some specific intent crimes include:

  • Theft
  • Larceny
  • Forgery
  • Embezzlement
  • Child Molestation
  • “Inchoate” offenses or crimes (e.g. conspiracy, attempt, and solicitation) 
  • Murder

Most crimes consist of two parts: the act of the crime itself: the “actus reus,” and the motive or mental element of the crime: the “mens rea.” Specific intent crimes are those in which there is demonstrable mens rea. 

For specific intent crimes, such as murder, the outcome of the entire case will rest on your mens rea – even if the actus reus has been proven. If you can prove that you unintentionally committed a crime and did so without any specific intent, it’s possible that a jury could find you not guilty. However, this will require solid evidence to prove. 

Hancock Law Firm, PLLC Helps Those in North Carolina Who Have Been Charged with Committing a Crime

A criminal conviction can have a very long-lasting impact on your life. Not only can it affect your ability to obtain or keep certain jobs, but also it can have a permanent impact on your reputation. That’s why it is in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you fight these charges and obtain the best possible outcome for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.