Many of our clients ask us whether or not intent is an important element in their criminal case. Meaning, if the act was an accident, can I still be found liable?
Intent is , in fact, a crucial element in the Prosecutor’s case against a person, and also one that is difficult to prove. Because it is impossible to read a person’s thoughts during an act, proving a person’s mental state, or mens rea, is complex to prove in a court of law.
To prove intent or knowledge, the Prosecutor will turn to facts surrounding the event and the circumstances behind it. In a murder case, the lack of intent could mean the significant difference between a life sentence and 10 to 25 years in jail. In a simpler criminal case, it could mean that your case could possibly be dismissed.
Let’s consider two examples. In Scenario A, David lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows each other. David has an ongoing feud with Victor who lives a couple houses down the street. The two have argued back and forth for years and it is common knowledge to the entire street. Everyday, at 6:00 am sharp, Victor goes jogging. He runs past David’s house every morning around 8:05 AM. Victor has done this for years without fail. One morning David is sitting in his car on the driveway at 8:00 AM, and he is checking his rear view mirror. His car is on, although he seems to not be in a rush to go anywhere. As soon as Victor goes jogging by, David reverses his car off the driveway and hits Victor. When charged, David later claims that he did not see Victor jog by as he was distracted, and therefore had no intent to cause injury.
In scenario B, David and Victor live in the same neighborhood but are good friends. They spend lots of time together and even vacation together. Victor is not a regular jogger. One morning as David is distracted holding a briefcase and his coffee as he gets into his car. He is also extremely distracted preparing for a big meeting that could make or break his career. With so much on his mind, he pulls out of the driveway and doesn’t see Victor walking towards his house to wish him luck. He injures Victor. Victor forgives his friend and tells him there are no hard feelings.
In scenario A, prosecutors could make a strong case against David, despite his protests that he has no intent to injure Victor because the facts point towards a different argument. It was well known that the two disliked each other, and it was a routine habit of Victor’s to pass David’s house at that exact time. It seemed that David was in no rush to go anywhere until the moment Victor jogged by. Prosecution could present strong evidence to prove the requisite element of intent, and David would likely be charged and convicted.
In comparison, in scenario B, the Prosecutors would have a hard time proving intent. The facts do not indicate that David intended to injure Victor. The two were friends, David was distracted and his mind was elsewhere, Victor unpredictably approached David and Victor forgave David for the incident. This case would likely be dismissed, and if it were to get convicted, would be significantly reduced.
Intent is a crucial element and one that Prosecutor’s must base the bulk of their argument upon. Consult an experienced San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer to assess your case and determine whether the element of intent is strong or weak in your case. It could lead to a reduction or possible dismissal of all charges!