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The Element of Criminal Intent

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In order to be convicted of a crime in New Jersey, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that, among other factors, you had the necessary state of mind (“mens rea”) to carry out the specific criminal behavior. In applicable cases, Mark Catanzaro, a criminal defense attorney in New Jersey, first seeks to demonstrate that the prosecution failed to establish the requisite intent. There are four types of criminal intent:

  • Purposeful – When an individual has a conscious goal to commit an act or create a result from that act.
  • Knowing – The individual understands the nature of his actions or the significant probability that they exist.
  • Reckless – Being aware of the risks of his or her actions, but disregarding those risks and acting anyway.
  • Negligent – Acting without reasonable caution in the face of substantial or unjustifiable risks.

By way of example, homicide is a crime that can vary in degree of severity depending on the criminal intent. To be convicted of murder, a form of homicide, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant purposely or knowingly caused death or serious bodily injury resulting in death. Proving purposeful or knowing intent is difficult because it requires using circumstantial evidence and not direct evidence (which is always more convincing).

Insanity and intoxication are defenses to murder. The necessary element of purposeful or knowing intent is negated if a New Jersey criminal defense attorney can successfully show, by clear and convincing evidence, that a defendant was legally insane or intoxicated. An intoxication defense may not clear you of all charges, but rather it reduces the murder charge to a lesser offense.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, only requires a showing of reckless intent. While this is a lesser offense, it is easier to prove the element of intent. A reckless intent to kill another would mean that an individual had a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would result from his or her conduct. Intoxication is not a defense to reckless intent.

An example of an offense involving criminal negligence is Simple Assault. There are various forms of Simple Assault, one of which only requires the negligent intent to cause physical injury to another through the use of a deadly weapon. While it may not be a defendant’s conscious goal to injure another, New Jersey law expects that a reasonable person would be aware of the risks associated with using a deadly weapon (gun, knife, brick, etc.). Failing to realize those risks constitutes negligence.

A New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Ready to Fight for You!

As you can see, criminal intent makes a substantial difference in the severity of an offense. You need a skilled criminal defense attorney in New Jersey to review your case and offer you the best defensive strategies. With nearly 30 years of experience, Mark Catanzaro will fight to get you the best possible outcome for your case. Contact the office today at (609) 261-3400.


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