Understanding General and Specific Intent: Eight Things I Know for Sure

21 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2012 Last revised: 18 Jul 2015

Eric Alan Johnson

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: March 30, 2012

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Criminal law, mens rea, general intent, specific intent, statutory interpretation

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Eric Alan, Understanding General and Specific Intent: Eight Things I Know for Sure (March 30, 2012). Forthcoming in Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2031701 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2031701

Eric Alan Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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