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Distinguishing between specific intent and general intent

On Behalf of The Law Firm of Brent D. Ratchford |

When violent crimes are committed in North Carolina, what many people don’t know is that there’s a difference in these crimes depending on the state of mind of the person who committed them. Specific intent and general intent crimes have differences that can affect the outcome of a case.

What is a specific intent crime?

The term “specific intent” relates to the individual’s state of mind when they committed the crime. If specific intent is in place, it means that any illegal act the person committed was done deliberately and willfully. For example, if someone decided to commit burglary so that they could steal money from a home or business, it would be a crime of specific intent.

What is a general intent crime?

A general intent crime doesn’t require an additional goal by the perpetrator. It can include assaults and violent crimes, but there is no intent needed in order to hurt another person. An example of this type of crime is driving under the influence, or DUI. Although a person must have alcohol or drugs in their system in order to commit the crime, most people don’t have the intention of committing a DUI.

Diminished capacity and its role in crimes

In some cases, a crime may be committed by someone who has diminished capacity. Diminished capacity means that a person has a mental impairment and is, therefore, incapable of the state of mind needed to commit a crime. Often, the matter of diminished capacity arises in murder cases and results in the charges being reduced to manslaughter. While murder has an intent, manslaughter does not carry any intent.

If a person lacks malice afterthought when a crime is committed, they may be able to avoid being charged with murder due to diminished capacity or diminished actuality. This often occurs with a person who is impaired either temporarily such as through drugs or alcohol or someone who is mentally impaired through disability. Such a condition may be brought up as part of a criminal defense strategy.