Penal Offenses

Posted on May 20, 2013 in National Issues

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Penal offenses – Specific Intent can be Inferred from Circumstances and Defendant’s Conduct

By V.A.G. Krishnan, legal writer at the Law Offices of Michael J. Brennan

Criminal intent means that the requisite state of mind to hold a person responsible for a particular crime. Most courts require the prosecution to prove that the defendant had a specific criminal intent to commit the crime to find that the defendant is guilty of the crime. Specific criminal intent is an element in certain offenses. Specific criminal intent can be defined as a state of mind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act.

It is the trier of the fact who is required to determine whether the defendant had specific intent to commit the crime. In murder cases, the premeditation, or specific intent to kill, distinguishes murder in the first from murder in the second degree. Proof of this element is essential to conviction of the former offense, and the burden of proving it clearly rests with the prosecution.

In a 1997 case – State v. Lewis, 698 So. 2d 456 – the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit affirmed the conviction of the defendant for attempted second degree murder finding that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to establish that defendant had the specific intent to kill, noting that defendant used a deadly weapon to practically core the victim, and left her to practically bleed to death. In this case, defendant argued that the evidence indicated he was guilty at most of attempted manslaughter. The court inferred the specific intent of the defendant to kill the victim from the extent and severity of the victim’s injuries.

In State v. Pettus, 68 So. 3d 21 (2011), the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth District affirmed the conviction of the defendant for theft of goods valued at over $300 finding that the defendant had specific intent to steal the merchandise from the store. In this case, the court inferred the specific intent from the conduct of the defendant. Defendant took a belt from Dillard’s store and concealed it under his jacket and proceeded immediately toward the store’s exit. On seeing the Deputy Gorman at the exit door, defendant discarded the belt.

The act of aiming a lethal weapon at the victim and discharging it at the victim is sufficient to infer the specific intent of the defendant to kill the victim. See State v. Gonzalez, 975 So. 2d 3 (2007).

The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fourth District vacated the conviction of the defendant in State v. Cooks, 81 So. 3d 932 (2011) finding that there was insufficient evidence to establish specific intention of the defendant to kill the victim. In this case, the defendant was scared because the victim was holding a hand gun. There was insufficient proof that defendant planned, signaled, directed, or otherwise intended for anyone outside to shoot the victim. Furthermore, the co-defendant testified that shooting of the victim was necessary to prevent him from harming defendant and was, thus, justified under La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:22.

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