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Lack of Criminal Intent


The alibi defense is a nifty defense if you are being accused of a crime that requires you to be physically present.  If eyewitnesses claim that they saw you stealing or vandalizing property or selling drugs, but there are no photos to back up their claims, you can argue that the person they saw was not you, because you were at a specific other location.  That defense only works if you are trying to cast doubt on eyewitness testimony, though, or if police arrested you based on grainy or blurry surveillance camera footage.  If a police officer caught you in the act, looked you in the eye, and arrested you, though, then your alibi defense will not be persuasive.  When it is not possible to persuade the jury that you didn’t do it, you may be able to persuade them that you didn’t do it on purpose.  Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains the role of criminal intent in criminal cases and how you may be able to persuade the jury to acquit you by arguing that you acted without criminal intent.

How Does the Lack of Criminal Intent Defense Work?

Some actions only qualify as crimes if you do them with criminal intent.  For example, taking someone else’s property without the owner’s consent and without the intention of keeping it is theft.  You are not guilty of theft, however, if you take someone else’s property because the owner gave you permission to take it.  Injuring someone on purpose is the crime of assault, but injuring someone in self-defense because the person was actively trying to injure or kill you is not a crime.  Accidentally causing injury may or may not be a crime, depending on the circumstances.  Telling a lie is fraud if you knew that what you were saying was not true and if you lied for your own financial gain, to avoid criminal prosecution, or to falsely accuse someone else of a crime.  Saying something untrue is not a lie if you reasonably believed it to be true; that is simply a mistake, and you cannot get civil or criminal penalties for a mistake unless it causes severe harm, such as leading to injuries or deaths.  Untrue statements are also not fraud if you make it clear to the listener that they are not true; that is simply fiction, which is not illegal.

In other words, the definitions of some criminal offenses include both what you did and why you did it.  If you are accused of a crime that necessarily involves criminal intent, you are not guilty if you did the wrong thing for the right reason.

How Do You Prove Lack of Criminal Intent?

When you use the lack of criminal intent defense, you argue that you engaged in the action, but that you did it without criminal intent.  You must specify why you did it and give a reason for doing it; you must also present evidence that indicates that your motive is what you say it is.  For example, if you are accused of stealing a charcoal grill from the bed of a pickup truck and you claim that you believed that the legal owner had thrown it away and didn’t want it anymore, the jury is unlikely to believe you.  That defense would work better if you removed the grill from the end of the owner’s driveway on trash pickup day.  Your defense is even stronger if your spouse testifies that the day you first brought the grill home was a Monday, and a waste management worker testifies that Mondays are trash pickup day in the owner’s neighborhood.

For Some Criminal Charges, You Can Still Be Guilty Even If You Didn’t Do It on Purpose

The lack of criminal intent defense does not work for charges that involve recklessness rather than criminal intent.  You are still guilty of drunk driving if you drank alcohol but then got behind the wheel, thinking that you were only slightly tipsy but didn’t think that your blood alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit.  By definition, manslaughter means killing someone accidentally; it involves negligence, not doing something on purpose.  Likewise, you can still be guilty of child endangerment if you leave young children unattended for an extended period of time, even if they do not get hurt.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you present the lack of criminal intent defense if it is applicable to your case.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.



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