question.jpgIn Criminal Law

What are specific intent crimes?

In legal terms, a specific intent crime is almost the opposite of a strict liability crime, which requires no intent to break the law. A specific intent crime, however, not only requires that a defendant act knowingly, but that the defendant also acted with a specific purpose in mind. Again, let’s use an example to illustrate:

Theft is a good example of a specific intent crime. To be convicted of theft, most theft laws not only require that you take something from someone else, but that you had the specific intent to deprive that person of his property permanently. So, for instance, if you took your neighbor’s Porsche, to be convicted of theft, the government must prove that you intended to deprive the person of it permanently. If you only intended to take it for a spin and return it to your neighbor’s garage, then you didn’t commit the crime of theft (though, you can still be convicted of other crimes, such as joyriding).

Likewise, to be convicted of burglary, the government has to prove that you broke into your neighbor’s house with the intent to steal something. If you only intended to break in and watch your neighbor’s cable television and take a nap, you’d be guilty of the crime of breaking and entering, and not burglary.