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How important is intent in a drug crimes case?

Not every bad act is a criminal one. Human beings make mistakes and a lot of what happens is unintentional. Typically, one of the key elements often required for authorities to level a criminal charge is evidence that you actually intended to commit the crime.

Take for example a situation in which you borrow a tool from a neighbor. If you never intended to keep it and simply forgot to return it the chances are pretty good that you won't find yourself facing a theft charge in Minnesota. The importance of intentionality might be most apparent in the words used to describe some drug charges.

In many states the law often distinguishes categories of drug possession crimes. On one hand, a person might be accused of simple possession. The implication in such a charge is that the drugs found on the suspect were for personal use. Alternatively, one might find himself or herself charged with possession with intent to sell. As you can see, the aspect of intention is incorporated.

In the criminal courts, prosecutors must establish a defendant's criminal intent. And, digging into this topic a bit further, it should be made clear that there may be different levels of intent.

  • Specific intent is when prosecutors allege that an action was committed with specific intent or purpose.
  • General intent is broader. It simply indicates that the defendant's action wasn't committed accidentally.
  • Strict liability could be included as part of the allegation if prosecutors believe a crime was committed, regardless of intent.

In any event, the burden rests on the state to prove its allegation beyond a reasonable doubt.

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