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What Does “Intent” Mean in a Florida Criminal Case?


If you have been arrested for committing a crime in Florida, you probably assume that the prosecuting attorney will focus on the specific acts that constitute a violation of the law. You do not expect that your state of mind could play an important role in your case, so it may come as a shock to learn that your intent could be the key difference between a conviction and acquittal. For certain crimes, the prosecution must prove that you had the relevant state of mind, since there are two general components to any crime: The act and the intent.

The concept of intent dates back to common law, the legal system upon which American jurisprudence is based; therefore, it is still relevant for today’s cases. Your Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney will build a strategy around your state of mind in a criminal offense, but a summary may be useful.

How Intent Works in Florida Criminal Cases: The prosecution is required to prove certain essential elements, beyond a reasonable doubt, to obtain a conviction in a criminal case. There are two key components behind these elements, drawing from Latin terms:

  1. Actus reus, an unlawful act; and,
  2. Mens rea, an intent to commit the unlawful act.

The specific elements of an offense go into greater detail and are spelled out in the Florida criminal code; generally, there are around 3-5 sets of facts that the prosecutor must prove. When the statute includes language on intent, the prosecutor must prove that designated state of mind. A lack of evidence regarding intent could lead to a dismissal of the charges or acquittal.

General Versus Specific Intent in Florida: When reviewing the statutory language regarding a criminal offense, you can see that there are two separate categories:

  1. Specific Intent: The law defining the offense will include terms like “maliciously,” “willfully,” or other indications that the defendant wanted to bring about a certain end result through the criminal conduct. An example would be First Degree Murder, where the prosecution must establish that the killing was premeditated. Burglary, robbery, forgery, and arson are also specific intent crimes.
  2. General Intent: If there is no language regarding specific intent, the prosecutor must prove that the unlawful act was committed intentionally, knowingly or recklessly. A few examples of general intent crimes are:
  • Assault;
  • Battery;
  • Rape; and,
  • Kidnapping.

In addition, there are several offenses that do not require proof of the defendant’s state of mind, such as where the misconduct does not rise to the level of a misdemeanor or felony. Civil violations and traffic citations fall in this category.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

Intent may not make or break every criminal case, but you do need to develop an appropriate defense strategy if the prosecutor’s burden of proof centers state of mind. For more information on the elements of a criminal case, please contact the offices of Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can set up a consultation to review your circumstances and determine how to proceed.


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