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PG IV General And Specific Intent: General Rules.
The terms “specific” and “general” intent have been notoriously difficult to define and apply. (See People v. Hood (69) 1 C3d 444, 456 [82 CR 618]; People v. Daniels (75) 14 C3d 857, 860 [122 CR 872].) The terms have been “employed in more than one sense, thereby causing confusion ….” (Daniels 14 C3d at 860) and a number of text writers have recommended that the terms be abandoned altogether. (See texts cited in Daniels and Hood.) In fact, following the leadership of the Ninth Circuit’s Committee on Model Jury Instructions, the Federal Judicial Center (Pattern Criminal Jury Instructions (1988)), has abjured the terms “specific intent,” “general intent,” and “willfully”. (See Committee on Model Jury Instructions, Ninth Circuit, Manual of Model Jury Instructions for the Ninth Circuit § 5.06, § 5.07 (1985 ed.). Use of “specific intent” and “general intent” in jury instructions was criticized in Liparota v. U.S. (85) 471 US 419, 433 n 16 [85 LEd2d 434]; see also People v. Thomas DEPUBLISHED (94) 26 CA4th 891 [31 CR2d 731] [so long as the intent required by the statute is conveyed to the jury, no further use of the exact term “specific intent” is required].)
In People v. Whitfield (94) 7 C4th 437 [27 CR2d 858], the California Supreme Court seemed to endorse the view that the distinction between specific and general intent crimes is merely a device to permit evidence of intoxication to reduce the crime to a lower degree but not to permit it to result in total acquittal. Consistent with this view is the following quotation from Fletcher, Rethinking Criminal Law (1978), p. 850, upon which the Whitfield court relied: “The distinction between specific and general intent facilitates a compromise between the rigors of denying the relevance of intoxication and allowing it to undercut all liability; in this respect the classification is functionally sound …. The distinction between general and specific intent is frequently litigated, for the simple reason that the courts tend to employ these terms as though they had a meaning beyond their function as devices for seeking a compromised verdict.” (Whitfield 7 C4th at 451, fn 5; see also People v. Hering (99) 20 C4th 440, 447 [84 CR2d 839] [“This case aptly illustrates the general principle that — other than circumstances involving a mental state defense — ‘the characterization of a crime as one of specific intent [or general intent] has little meaningful significance in instructing a jury.’ [Citations.]”.)
Nevertheless, the distinction between specific and general intent continues to be important for three reasons. First, if the crime requires a specific intent, the jury must be instructed upon that intent since it is an element of the offense. Second, in specific intent crimes special instruction upon circumstantial evidence may be required. (See CJ 2.02.) Third, specific intent may be negated by intoxication and mental impairment while general intent may not. (See PC 22 and PC 28.)
“The distinction between general intent and specific intent crimes is at bottom founded upon a policy decision regarding the availability of certain defenses.” [Internal citations, quote marks and punctuation omitted.] (People v. Campbell(94) 23 CA4th 1488, 1493 [28 CR2d 716]; see also People v. Mendoza (98) 18 C4th 1114, 1127 [77 CR2d 428].)
The process of determining whether a crime entails general or specific intent should start with an examination of the statutory language. General intent crimes proscribe particular acts. For such crimes, reference is not made to any intent to accomplish some further act or achieve some further consequence. (Hood 1 C3d at 456; People v. Lopez (86) 188 CA3d 592, 598 [233 CR 207].) Where the definition includes the defendant’s intent to accomplish a further act or achieve an additional consequence, the crime is one of specific intent. (Hood 1 C3d at 456-57; see also People v. Mendoza (98) 18 C4th 1114, 1127 [77 CR2d 428].)
The words willfully, knowingly, and maliciously are usually expressions of general criminal intent when used in a penal statute. (PC 7(1); People v. Williams (80) 102 CA3d 1018, 1025-29 [162 CR 748].) However, this broad rule of statutory construction has not been consistently applied, and there are specific intent crimes, such as perjury (PC 118) and lewd and lascivious conduct (PC 288), which use the term willfully. (See People v. Viniegra (82) 130 CA3d 577, 584 [181 CR 848]; People v. Worthington (74) 38 CA3d 359, 368 [113 CR 322].)