Criminal Law - Defining Intention

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          In English criminal law, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offence with the requisite state of mind (mens rea). Mens rea can be considered to be the ‘degree of blameworthiness’ and the concept of intention is the most blameworthy state of mind. According to Glanville Williams, intention ‘does not need a definition since everybody knows what it means’. In ordinary language, intention means purpose or aim, as everybody knows it. But, the core meaning of intention is fairly straightforward and hence ‘Intention cannot be satisfactorily defined.’ The meaning of intention has caused problems for the courts especially on cases which lied on the borderline of intention and recklessness.

          The basic definition according to Robert Walker LJ in the civil case of Re A is ‘purpose’. The definition in Mohan could be described as commonsense definition. The ordinary meaning of intention so far is used in the majority of cases. The judges need not to define intention and the jury should use their common sense in determining its meaning. However, in ‘rare’ and ‘exceptional’ cases, the judge should have to give further explanation to the jury on intention to avoid misunderstanding. The jurors are entitled to find intention if a result was virtually certain and the defendant realized it was virtually certain to occur.

          In normal language, intention means to intend to do something tends to suggest wanting to do something. It can be defined as a direct intent. Direct intent shows that the defendant acts with the aim of purpose to result the consequence that he finally wants. For example, A stabbed B because A wanted to kill B. This intention can be obviously seen. Therefore, House of Lords made it clear that the legal meaning of ‘intention’ is the ordinary meaning of the word. But, the legal meaning of ‘intention’ basically has the wider definition. Another not-obvious legal meaning of ‘intention’ is to intend to do something without wanting to do it or having it as part of your reason to do it. It means the consequence is not your main purpose or aim. It can be defined as oblique intent (also known as indirect intent). For a hypothetical example, a woman stabbed her former husband’s girlfriend, not because she wanted to kill her, it is because she wanted to frighten her former husband. Also, in Jonathan Herring, four hypothetical cases have given. Obviously, in one of the cases for example, the airplane bomber’s action has given ‘side effect’ which he did not intend it. This broad view of intention is particularly strong where the desired consequence is inseparably bound up with the foreseen though desired consequence.This state of mind which goes often by the term of ‘oblique intent’, was called by Glanville Williams as the ‘side-effect’ of the defendant’s intent. Moreover, oblique intent can also be found in cases which are related to inchoate offences. The actions are done by the accused where a result is a step to achieve the desire end under his plan. As you can see, the oblique intent is not straightforward that the juries have to be directed to find the intention. If the judge does not give a clear definition, there would be many different decisions from the juries. Hard cases can make bad law if the judges ought not to give definition of intention.

          Although in every day speech motive and intention are defined in same meanings. But in criminal law, the two words are treated as distinct. The courts have consistently stated that ‘intention is something quite different from motive or desire.’ In other words, it is possible to intend a consequence without wanting it to happen (oblique intent). Motive, is the cause that moves people to induce a certain action. In Chandler v DPP, Court of Appeal held that ‘the motive behind the immediate action was irrelevant; they still intended the method of achieving it’. The judgment from that case is ‘intention is different from motive where intention is to perform specific act and motive is purpose for having the intention to perform the specific act.’ The prosecution needs not to prove the defendant’s motive. Nevertheless, they may make an issue of motive is related with case. For example, if a defendant denies the conviction and produces evidence showing that he had no motive to commit the crime. It doesn’t help him. It is because proof of motive is not necessary to prove a crime. The courts will only consider whether there is existence of intention. In R v Hill, the court held that regardless of motive, you still have the intention to perform specific act, since motive and intention are two different things. In R v Inglis, although the defendant has good motives to kill his lover to relieve pain and suffering, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have intention to do it because motive is irrelevant. However, in some rare cases, motive will be considered as reliance of the cases. For example, in R v Steane, the defendant was forced to broadcast on the radio for the Nazis with his family under threat. After the war, he was charged with ‘doing acts likely to help the enemy with intent to assist the enemy’. He did assist the enemy but the reason behind of doing it was to save his family. There was obviously no intent to assist the enemy, he was forced into doing it, his motive is to save his family. Therefore, the conviction quashed. So, the question was whether or not motive was relevant to intent. Lord Goddard said that ‘if the circumstances showed that the act was as consistent with an innocent intent as with a criminal intent, and if there was any doubt about the matter, the prisoner was entitled to be acquitted’.

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          Intention is purely subjective. The test of what the defendant foresaw and intended is always subjective, based on how the jury believes or not whether the defendant might have actually foresaw or intended. In DPP v Smith, the defendant who had been involved in a robbery claimed he did not want to kill the police, he just wanted to escape, and therefore he could not be convicted of murder. The House of Lords upheld the conviction of murder, saying that if an ‘ordinary man’ would have ‘contemplated’ the end result then the necessary intention was ...

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