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Can I be guilty of a crime if I did not have any intent to commit the crime?

Posted by Andrew Segal | May 09, 2018 | 0 Comments

 
Our legal system has two basic classes of crimes, those that require a mental state and those that do not.
 
Most crimes require some sort of evil intent to commit the crime coupled with some sort of action. As the Supreme Court explained most crimes require an evil-meaning mind with an evil acting hand.
 
The supreme court explained this in a famous case called Morissette v. the United States
 
Poor Mr. Morrissette had collected some spent bomb casings that appeared to be abandoned on government property and sold them for recycling. The government charged him and convicted him of "knowingly" converting government property to himself. At his trial, Morrissette said he honestly believed these casings were abandoned. The trial judge rejected Morrissette's claim and told the jury that as long as Morrissette had intentionally exercised dominion over the property he would be guilty regardless of whether or not he had the intent to actually steal the property.
 
 
Mr. Morrissette appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. The court said.Mr. Morrissette was right. And that for him to have been guilty, he would've had to have a specific intent to act against the law. Since Mr. Morrissette never intended to act against the law, he was not guilty of the crime.
 
So does this mean that if you didn't have the intent to commit a crime, you are not guilty?
 
Well, it is not as simple as that. There are some types of crimes that you can be guilty of, even though you had no intention of violating the law. Most but not all of these crimes are what are considered public welfare offenses things like regulations concerning public health and welfare and other crimes like speeding. But there are some serious crimes that a person can be guilty of, even though they had no intent to commit a crime. The most serious of these is statutory rape. In other words, if a man has sex with an underage woman, but he honestly believes that she is of legal age that is not a defense. We generally call crimes that don't require any kind of evil intent. "Strict liability" crimes.
 
In Alabama, most crimes do require that you have some sort of criminal intent.
 
Most lawyers devote their lives to understanding the laws and defending and protecting our clients.
 
If you find yourself in some sort of illegal jam and you want our help just give us a call the number below.

About the Author

Andrew Segal

Andrew Segal is a former prosecutor who now represents the accused as a criminal defense attorney in Huntsville, Alabama area courts. Andrew graduated cum laude from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1982. During his time at Washington College of Law at American University, he discovered hi...

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