Intent, General v. Specific
Intent and motive are terms that are commonly confused, but they are distinct principles and differentiated in the law. Motive is the cause or reason that prompts a person to act or fail to act. In contrast, intent refers only to the state of mind (mens rea) with which the act is done or omitted. Because intent is a state of mind, it can rarely be proved with direct evidence and ordinarily must be inferred from the facts of the case. Evidence of intent is always admissible to prove a specific-intent crime, but evidence of motive is only admissible if it tends to help prove or negate the element of intent. Courts generally allow a wide range of direct and circumstantial evidence to be introduced at trial in order to prove the difficult element of criminal or torturous intent. In addition, the doctrine of presumed intent may be helpful in proving specific intent because it holds individuals accountable for all the natural and probable consequences of their acts.
References and Readings
- Denney, R. L. (2005). Criminal responsibility and other criminal forensic issues. In G. Larrabee (Ed.), Forensic neuropsychology: A scientific approach. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Melton, G. B., Petrila, J., Poythress, N. G., & Slobogin, C. (2007). Psychological evaluations for the courts (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Yates, K. F., & Denney, R. L. (2008). Neuropsychology in the assessment of mental state at the time of the offense. In R. Denney & J. Sullivan (Eds.), Clinical neuropsychology in the criminal forensic setting. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar