Legal Dictionary

intention

Legal Definition of intention

Related terms


Definition of intention

Pronunciation

Noun

intention (plural intentions)

  1. A course of action that a person intends to follow.

    My intention was to marry a wealthy widow.

  2. The goal or purpose behind a specific action or set of actions

    The intention of this legislation is to boost the economy.

  3. (obsolete) Tension; straining, stretching.

Further reading

In criminal law, intention is one of the three general classes of mens rea necessary to constitute a conventional as opposed to strict liability crime.

Definitions

Intention is defined in R. v Mohan as "the decision to bring about a prohibited consequence".

A range of words is used to represent shades of intention in the various criminal laws around the world. The mental element, or mens rea, of murder, for example, is traditionally expressed as malice aforethought, and the interpretations of malice, "maliciously" and "wilfully" vary between pure intention and recklessness depending on the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed and the seriousness of the offence.

A person intends a consequence when he or she foresees that it will happen if the given series of acts or omissions continue and desires it to happen. The most serious level of culpability, justifying the most serious levels of punishment, will be achieved when both these components are actually present in the accused's mind (a "subjective" test). A person who plans and executes a crime is considered, rightly or wrongly, a more serious danger to the public than one who acts spontaneously (perhaps because they are less likely to get caught), whether out of the sudden opportunity to steal, or out of anger to injure another. But intention can also come from the common law viewpoint as well.

Offenses of basic and of specific intent

In some states, a distinction is made between an offense of basic (sometimes termed "general") intent and an offense of specific intent.

  1. Offenses requiring basic intent specify a mens rea element that is no more than the intentional or reckless commission of the actus reus. The actor either knew (intended) or deliberately closed his mind to the risk (recklessness) that his action (actus reus) would result in the harm suffered by the victim. The crime of battery, for example, only requires the basic intent that the actor knew or should have known that his action would lead to harmful contact with the victim.
  2. A limited number of offences are defined to require a further element in addition to basic intent, and this additional element is termed specific intent. There are two classes of such offences:

    (a) Some legislatures decide that particular criminal offenses are sufficiently serious that the mens rea requirement must be drafted to demonstrate more precisely where the fault lies. Thus, in addition to the conventional mens rea of intention or recklessness, a further or additional element is required. For example, in English law, s18 Offences against the Person Act 1861 defines the actus reus as causing grievous bodily harm but requires that this be performed:
    1. unlawfully and maliciously - the modern interpretation of "malice" for these purposes is either intention or recklessness, "unlawfully" means without some lawful excuse (such as self-defence); and with
    2. the intent either to cause grievous bodily harm or to resist lawful arrest.
    The rule in cases involving such offenses is that the basic element can be proved in the usual way, but the element of specific intent must be shown using a more subjective than objective test so that the legislature's express requirement can be seen to be satisfied.

    (b) The inchoate offenses such as attempt and conspiracy require specific intent in a slightly different sense. The rationale for the existence of criminal laws is as a deterrent to those who represent a danger to society. If an accused has actually committed the full offense, the reality of the danger has been demonstrated. But, where the commission of the actus reus is in the future and the accused is merely acting in anticipation of committing the full offense at some time in the future, a clear subjective intention to cause the actus reus of the full offense must be demonstrated. Without this specific intent, there is insufficient evidence that the accused is the clear danger as feared because, at any time before the commission of the full offense, the accused may change his or her mind and not continue. Hence, this specific intent must also be demonstrated on a subjective basis.

At times a forensic psychiatric examination may be helpful in ascertaining the presence or absence of mens rea in crimes which require specific intent.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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