Wrongful intent often factors into the determination of a verdict. While the “I didn’t mean to” cliché is at risk for being abused in a court of law, the claim is often legitimate. The common issue with these cases, though, is determining whether or not the individual is legally responsible despite their intent.
I think that in determining wrongful intent, we must distinguish the difference between legal and moral responsibility. Given a murder case in which violence was premeditated, but murder was not anticipated, a jury must determine the degree of responsibility for the accused. While the defendant is certainly morally responsible for his or her actions, is he/she legally responsible for something that was not premeditated?
This question can be answered in several ways. The first thought may be that because the accused actively sought to harm the victim, they are inherently responsible for what happens to them. While there is no intention to kill at stake, the end result supersedes any prior intention—the basic premeditation to harm is enough to convict. The second approach does not find the defendant guilty, as their intention to simply harm is sufficient in taking away any legal responsibility. As opposed to using the end result at a determinant, this approach puts the defendant’s motive at the forefront.
I tend to more readily align with the first thought, as any intent at all should innately assign responsibility to the accused. When the attacker decided to inflict harm on another, they immediately became responsible for what was to come. As a result, I find the “I didn’t mean to” claim to carry little weight in this case.
Nonetheless, this issue applies to a variety of other cases. Given a situation in which the accused had no negligent intent, but still committed a crime, the issue of wrongful intent must be treated differently. In essence, a jury must thoroughly assess the character of the defendant’s intent before making a decision. In doing so, a jury is more clearly able to assign legal responsibility.
Determining wrongful intent is, of course, a very slippery slope Juries and judges alike must be absolute certain of intent before determining an outcome. It is also vital to recognize whether or not the defendant is telling the truth. If one indictment is nullified on the basis of their intent, it will set a precedent for cases to come. More people would then seek to use this kind of defense, using a lie to set themselves up for freedom. In understanding wrongful intent, judges and juries must be absolutely clear on the intention of the convicted, ensuring that this defense is not taken for granted.