What is Lack of Intent as a Defense in New Jersey?
A defendant may argue lack of intent as a defense in New Jersey to a charge where they did not possess the necessary criminal intent at the time they committed the unlawful act.
For a defendant to be found guilty in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Most crimes consist of two elements - actus reus and mens rea.
Actus reus is the defendant's physical actions or conduct. Mens rea (“guilty mind”) is the defendant's mental state or criminal intent at the time of the act. For a defendant to be criminally responsible for a crime, they must possess the required intent when they do the act.
At the Law Offices of Alex Cirocco, we can examine your case and determine whether a lack of intent is a good defense. Call us today at 973-327-9995 or fill out an online form today to schedule a free initial consultation.
Example of Lack of Intent as a Defense in New Jersey
In most jurisdictions, a defendant is guilty of theft where they:
- take someone else's property without the person's permission (actus reus)
- with the intent to permanently deprive the person of it (mens rea)
So, a defendant who borrows their neighbor's lawnmower, forgets to return it, and is later charged with theft may be able to defend the charge based on lack of intent. When they took the lawnmower, they didn't intend to permanently deprive their neighbor of it.
When Lack of Intent Does Not Apply
Lack of intent in New Jersey is not a defense for ignorance of the law. Someone can intentionally commit an act that they do not know is illegal and be held criminally repsonsible for it.
Lack of intent also cannot be used as a defense to strict liability offenses. For a strict liability offense, the prosecution is not required to prove the defendant's criminal intent, only that the defendant did the act.
General and Specific Intent Crime in New Jersey
Some states make a distinction between general and specific intent crimes.
General intent crimes simply require the defendant to have intended to do the act. The defendant does not need to intend or anticipate a specific outcome of their actions. Simple assault is usually a general intent crime - the defendant only needs to intend to hit the victim, not to cause them a specific injury.
To defend a general intent crime based on lack of intent, the defense needs to demonstrate the absence of any intent on the defendant's behalf.
For a specific intent crime, the prosecution must prove the defendant acted intending to achieve a desired outcome. For example, burglary requires a person to enter a property with the intent to commit a crime.
A successful defense to a specific intent crime needs to highlight that the defendant did not intend the specific outcome when they did the act, even if they possessed general intent.
How Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey Use Lack of Intent as a Defense?
As illustrated above, a defense lawyer can use lack of intent to highlight the prosecution's failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the necessary intent when they did an unlawful act.
A defense lawyer can also argue lack of intent using defenses such as:
- mistake of fact, where the defendant held a reasonable but mistaken belief as to the facts of the situation
- involuntary intoxication, where the defendant was unable to form the necessary intent
The defenses available in an individual case depend on the specific circumstances. At the Law Offices of Alex Cirocco, we understand each case is unique and we will help you craft a defense to clear your name. Call us at 973-327-9995 or fill out an online contact form today to schedule your free initial consultation.