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The difference between general and specific intent crimes in Colorado

Posted by Neil Shouse | Sep 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

In Colorado, "general intent crimes" require only that the defendant intended to commit a prohibited act; in contrast, "specific intent crimes" also require that the defendant intended to produce a prohibited result.

All Colorado crimes can be classified as either a general intent or a specific intent crime. The legal term for intent is "mens rea." A defendant cannot be convicted of a crime at trial unless the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has the requisite "mens rea."

General intent crimes in Colorado

The majority of Colorado criminal offenses are of the "general intent" variety. This means that in order for a defendant to be guilty of the crime, the defendant must have physically committed the underlying criminal act. But it is not necessary that the defendant intended to produce the result of that criminal act:

A common example of a general intent offense is the Colorado crime of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In order for a defendant to be convicted of DUI, the prosecution needs to prove that he/she drove while drunk or high. The prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant intended to drive drunk. After all, most people do not intend to drive drunk.

Another example of a general intent offense is the Colorado crime of statutory rape. In order for a defendant to be convicted of statutory rape, the prosecution does not need to prove that he/she intended to have sex with an underage person. Instead, the prosecution just needs to prove that the defendant did in fact have sex with an underage person -- even if the defendant believed the victim was an adult.

Specific intent crimes in Colorado

Specific intent crimes are more difficult to prove in Colorado than general intent crimes because the prosecution has the burden to show that the defendant intended to commit a certain harm. No video surveillance video or blood test can reveal precisely what was going through the defendant's head.

An example of a specific intent offense is the Colorado crime of murder. In order for a defendant to be convicted of murder, the prosecution must prove that he/she intended to cause someone's death. It is not enough for the prosecution to prove that the defendant in fact shot, stabbed, or poisoned the defendant -- the prosecution needs to show that the defendant's "mens rea" was to kill -- not merely injure -- the victim.

Another example of a specific intent offense is the Colorado crime of forgery. In order for a defendant to be convicted of forgery, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had an "intent to defraud." It is insufficient for the prosecution to show that the defendant in fact gave false information. The prosecution needs to demonstrate that he/she meant to deceive the victim by giving the false information.

Whether a defendant was charged with a general or specific intent crime helps determine the best defense strategies. For general intent crime charges, the defense attorneys would concentrate solely on showing that the defendant did not in fact commit the wrongful act. For specific intent crime charges, the defense attorneys would also concentrate on proving that the defendant had no intention of committing the wrongful act.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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