Specific Intent Example – House Party Fight at College
Bill and Lynn are juniors at State Community College and have been dating for two years. They just recently moved into the same house and decided to throw a party on Friday after school. All their friends and many other students come to the party. There’s a lot of drinking involved and many people began to act out.
Later in the evening, Bill walks down into the basement and finds Lynn kissing another male student called Rob. Bill is completely shocked and yells at Rob to get off of Lynn. Lynn then tells Bill that she has been "seeing" Rob for about three months and doesn’t want to date Bill anymore. Lynn tells Bill that she is going to move her stuff out of the house tomorrow.
Bill becomes extremely upset and punches the wall with his fist about six feet away from where Rob is sitting. Bill then yells at both Rob and Lynn to get the "hell out of my house." Bill opens the back door and Lynn walks out onto the patio. Then, Bill pushes Rob out of the door. Rob stumbles out onto the patio, loses his balance, and trips down the stairs landing on his head. Rob is knocked unconscious. Someone from the party calls 911 and Rob is rushed to the emergency room. Rob later dies in the hospital due to the combination of his head injury and a prior heart condition that he had which no one knew about.
Both Rob and Bill drank about 8-10 beers each that night and were drunk when this event occurred.
Issue: Can the State charge Bill with murder? Felonious assault? What is the proper charge?
Ok. Here’s where it becomes important to understand the difference between specific intent, general intent, and the other types of mental states required to prove a crime.
First, to prove murder, we would have to read what the statute says. Generally speaking, to prove murder the State would need to prove that Bill acted purposefully or knowingly with the specific intent to kill Rob. Can the State prove that?
We now have to examine all the facts of the event. For example, Bill was very angry because he caught another guy making out with his girlfriend Lynn at his own house after he had just moved in with Lynn. Lynn also broke up with Bill right there on the spot. Further, Bill was drunk and had never met Rob before this night. Finally, the facts indicate that Bill "pushed" Rob out the door and Rob then stumbled and fell down the steps landing on his head.
Many of the facts seem to indicate that Bill did not purposefully kill Rob. For example, Bill was very angry because Rob was kissing his girlfriend in his own house, and Lynn broke up with him right there when this occurred. Bill had not met Rob prior to this night and had no reason to dislike Rob prior to this event. Bill was drunk and maybe didn’t know the strength of his own actions when he pushed Rob. Finally, Bill only pushed Rob and did not punch him or otherwise hit him. Rob then stumbled and likely fell because he was drunk and had no balance.
So, if the State did charge Bill with the murder of Rob what would be the likely verdict of a jury or judge? Well, first the judge or jury would have to hear the testimony of the witnesses and view all the evidence. However, from the facts presented, it seems that the State would likely have an uphill battle to prove that Bill acted with the specific intent to kill Rob. In fact, that seems unlikely. However, the State would have a much stronger case to prove that Bill committed felonious assault. Felonious assault is generally still a specific intent crime. However, the State generally only has to show that the defendant intended to cause serious physical harm to another. Here, the State would have a much better chance at proving that Bill intended to hurt Rob and cause physical harm. The issue would be whether Bill intended to cause serious physical harm. That would be left up to the judge or jury to decide.
So, now you see a specific intent crime plays out in a real world example.
Next, let’s look at 5 out of the 10 specific intent crimes on our list.