The Connecticut Appellate Court, in what is sure to be a short-lived decision, reversed the conviction of a man accused of conspiring to commit Robbery in the Second Degree. In State v. Pond [PDF], the court held that while Robbery in the Second Degree is a general intent crime, conspiracy is a specific intent crime, so the trial judge improperly instructed the jury on the elements required to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The majority opinion and the concurrence [PDF] go to great lengths to plead that their decision here is “constrained” and “required” by the anomaly in the jurisprudence brought about by our supreme court’s decision in State v. Padua. In fact, almost the entirety of the concurrence is devoted to explaining this anomaly and how it basically fucks it up for the State, which has to prove more to prove a conspiracy and then ends with the blatantly transparent “but I’m just an appellate court, so I can’t do anything about it….HINT! HINT! ARE YOU GETTING MY HINT YET!?!!?”
Reading these opinions on specific and general intent and what is and isn’t not only made my head throb violently, but it also re-ignited a conversation I was having with myself last week: what is the difference between general and specific intent and why do we even bother to differentiate?
Thankfully we have State v. Gonzalez to clearly explain all of this to us (via the concurrence in Pond):
The term ‘‘general intent’’ refers, in criminal law parlance, to the fact that ‘‘the perpetrator act volitionally in some way’’; id., 502; as opposed to the perpetrator acting inadvertently. It requires no more than ‘‘an intention to make the bodily movement which constitutes the act which the crime requires. . . . Such an intent, to perform certain acts proscribed by a statute, we have referred to as the general intent ordinarily required for crimes of commission rather than omission.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. In such crimes, that general intent is always ‘‘implicitly a part of the state’s burden of proof and, in that sense, an element of the crime.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 502 n.14. Furthermore, unless there is some evidence in the case indicating that the perpetrator’s conduct may not have been voluntary in this sense—may have been inad-vertent or accidental, for example—there is ordinarily no need for a jury charge on that aspect of the case. Id.
The term ‘‘specific intent,’’ by contrast, requires more; it refers to the specific criminal mental state provided by the statute defining the crime charged. 9 See id., 501–502; see also State v. Nixon, 32 Conn. App. 224, 249, 630 A.2d 74 (1993) (‘‘[w]hen the elements of a crime include a defendant’s intent to achieve some result additional to the act, the additional language distinguishes the crime from those of general intent and makes it one requiring a specific intent’’), aff’d, 231 Conn. 545, 651 A.2d 1264 (1995).
Did you get all that? Did it make sense to you? Because I’m befuddled. The model jury instructions are no help either:
General intent is the intent to engage in conduct. Thus, in this case, it is not necessary for the state to prove that the defendant intended the precise harm or the precise result which eventuated. Rather, the state is required to prove that the defendant intentionally and not inadvertently or accidentally engaged in (his/her) actions. In other words, the state must prove that the defendant’s actions were intentional, voluntary and knowing rather than unintentional, involuntary and unknowing.
Specific intent is the intent to achieve a specific result. A person acts “intentionally” with respect to a result when (his/her) conscious objective is to cause such result.
And jurors are supposed to understand this?
Rape is generally a general intent crime. In other words, the State doesn’t have to prove that the defendant intended to rape the victim, but just that he raped the victim. In other words, the State has to prove that the defendant didn’t accidentally have sex with the victim without her consent.
What? How is that not the same as proving that the defendant specifically intended to have sexual intercourse with the victim without her consent? How does one “inadvertently” have sex with someone else? “I’m sorry, your Honor, but I was just walking down the street, and I tripped on a stone and I fell into her vagina, penis forward. I didn’t mean it, I swear!”
Here’s a little test. I’m going to give you the language of “unlawful restraint”. You tell me if it’s a general intent crime or a specific intent crime:
(a) A person is guilty of unlawful restraint in the first degree when he restrains another person under circumstances which expose such other person to a substantial risk of physical injury.
According to the annotations, it’s a specific intent crime. Fuck if I know why.
Are these just two different ways of saying mens rea? If so, why do we bother at all? How would these two versions of sexual assault be functionally different:
(a) A person is guilty of sexual assault in the first degree when such person (1) compels another person to engage in sexual intercourse by the use of force against such other person or a third person, or by the threat of use of force against such other person or against a third person which reasonably causes such person to fear physical injury to such person or a third person;
(a) A person is guilty of sexual assault in the first degree when, with the intent to force another person to have nonconsensual sexual intercourse, such person (1) compels another person to engage in sexual intercourse by the use of force against such other person or a third person, or by the threat of use of force against such other person or against a third person which reasonably causes such person to fear physical injury to such person or a third person
Really? Is that all it takes to make a general intent crime a specific intent crime? Or are all crimes specific intent crimes to begin with? How does one satisfy the elements of a crime without also finding that the defendant intended to commit those acts and thus, by definition, that crime? (I’m not talking about strict liability crimes here.) Doesn’t it just come down to how we define the crime? Or is this just another legal fiction designed to ensure that bad people stay convicted?
Someone, anyone, please explain this to me.
[I'm also not talking about the worst crime ever to be legislated in the history of human civilization: Risk of Injury to a Minor. That atrocity deserves a blog all to itself.]