Understanding General and Specific Intent: Eight Things I Know for Sure
Eric Alan Johnson
University of Illinois College of Law
March 30, 2012
The distinction between general and specific intent is a notorious source of confusion. Still, the federal courts and the state courts continue to make use of this distinction in interpreting criminal statutes with respect to mens rea. So attorneys (and law professors) have little choice but to muddle through as best they can. In this paper, I try to dispel some of the confusion surrounding this distinction. I don’t offer a complete, unitary theory of general and specific intent, because any complete, unitary account of general and specific intent is bound to be misleading. Instead, I confine myself to saying a few things I know (or think I know) about this topic.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 20
Keywords: Criminal law, mens rea, general intent, specific intent, statutory interpretation
JEL Classification: K14
Date posted: April 1, 2012
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