What Are the Levels of Intent in Federal Criminal Cases?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Illionois defense attorney,  Illinois criminal defense lawyerDuring a federal criminal trial, prosecutors have to prove a number of elements in their case. One of those elements is the legal concept of ‘mens rea’ or criminal intent. This is true in most cases, although there are certain cases that rest on strict liability and do not include the requirement of intent. Not only must the prosecution prove intent, but there are also four different levels of intent they must prove. The level they must prove will depend on the statute involved in the case. Below, those four levels of intent are examined more closely.

The Accused Acted Knowingly

There are many criminal statutes that only require the prosecution to prove the defendant acted knowingly. This means that the defendant simply knew what they were doing. The prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant knew what they were doing was against the law. For example, 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(b) states that it is illegal to intimidate or threaten a person that could be a witness for the federal prosecution. If the prosecution can prove a person knowingly did this, they do not have to also prove the defendant knew it was illegal.

The Accused Acted Willfully

The term ‘willfully’ appears in a number of federal criminal statutes. This element of proof does not require the prosecution to show an ‘evil intent,’ but rather that the person acted of their own accord, and with the intent to break the law. For example, 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, states that it is illegal to knowingly and willfully lie to federal agents. If a person was coerced to lie to an agent, or under duress, they cannot be charged with a crime because they did not act willfully, although they may have acted knowingly.

General Intent

General intent is the most common level of intent in federal cases. General intent simply means committing a crime, without the hope for a specific result or consequence. For example, if someone hacked into a computer without authorization, the prosecution can use that to show general intent. They do not have to prove that they were hacking into the computer to steal someone’s personal data.

Specific Intent

Contrary to general intent, specific intent does rely on the intent of a specific result or consequence. For example, if a person is charged with defrauding another person, the prosecution in federal courts must prove the defendant intended to obtain money or something else of value from that person. They cannot simply show that the defendant knew that what they were doing was illegal.

Need Help With Your Case? Call Our Illinois Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a federal crime, you need the help of a skilled Chicago federal criminal defense attorney. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel, we know what the prosecution must prove, and we know the arguments to use to refute their statements. Our attorney has extensive experience in federal court, and he wants to put it to work for you. Call us today at 312-629-0669 or fill out our online form for your free consultation.


Back to Top