When people are accused of criminal activity, they often say that they didn’t mean to do anything wrong, or even that they didn’t know that they were. They had no intent to break the law. They were simply ignorant of that law, or maybe they made a negligent mistake.
But does intent matter? It depends on the crime. There are certain crimes for which intent matters quite a lot and others for which it does not.
When does it matter?
For example, tax fraud often requires intent. You can make mistakes on your taxes based on a misunderstanding of the law or the forms you’re using, but that’s not a criminal activity. If you intentionally underreport your taxes, however, then you could be charged with trying to defraud the government by not paying your taxes.
Another example is murder. Many people who accidentally take a life are charged with manslaughter. They may have been negligent and caused the death. But that’s quite different than planning that event in advance and then carrying out the act. That’s why first-degree murder often requires intent and premeditation.
But for other crimes, intent isn’t as important. You can get a citation for breaking the speed limit even if you didn’t know what the speed limit was. You can be arrested for driving under the influence even if you still thought you were under the legal limit. You may have just made a mistake, but you’re still in violation of the law.
Considering your legal options
If you are facing serious charges, remember that they can have a drastic impact on your future. Take the time to carefully consider the legal defense options at your disposal.