Nearly all criminal laws in Pennsylvania can only be broken if the actor has the necessary level of intent. Each criminal statute is supposed to include what that level of intent is, though there are only four levels of criminal intent that Pennsylvania recognizes:
- Criminal negligence
Whether a defendant had the necessary intent to commit the crime is often the biggest issue in the case, and hinges on the definitions laid out in 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 302.
Many Criminal Offenses Require Intentional Action
A huge portion of the criminal laws in Pennsylvania requires the conduct to be intentional in order for it to be illegal. For example:
- Murder requires the killing to be intentional
- It is only burglary if you go into a building with the intent to commit a crime
- Theft requires an intent to permanently deprive the victim of their property
Intent, however, does not require premeditation. Intent can be formed in an instant. We went over the distinction earlier in our blog when we discussed the Dallas police officer's murder conviction for intentionally shooting and killing someone after entering the wrong apartment.
What Does It Mean to Act Knowingly?
A few criminal statutes in Pennsylvania only require a defendant to act knowingly for them to be liable for the crime. This falls short of intent, so the action does not have to be done for the purpose of committing the crime. Instead, under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 302(b)(2), acting knowingly involves doing something that is practically certain to cause a prohibited result.
Recklessness Can Still Lead to a Criminal Conviction
Recklessness is one step further removed from intent. However, it cannot be said to be accidental, either. According to the Pennsylvania statute on the different levels of intent, recklessness is a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that an action will lead to a criminal act. Disregarding that risk has to amount to a “gross deviation” from what a reasonable person would do in a similar situation.
Criminal Negligence Can Still Lead to a Conviction
Finally, there is criminal negligence. Importantly, criminal negligence is not just plain negligence. It is something more than just accidental conduct.
Instead, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 302(b)(4) says that someone acts with criminal negligence when they “should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that their conduct will be a crime, but they fail to perceive that risk.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
When they charge someone with a crime, prosecutors have to prove the necessary criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Because they can't read a defendant's mind, never mind the defendant's mind as it was at the time of the alleged offense, prosecutors have to rely on what the defendant said or did and argue that they are outward manifestations of the necessary criminal intent.
Having a solid criminal defense lawyer on hand to combat those arguments is a huge part of defending against a criminal accusation. Call Joseph D. Lento at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online if you have been charged with a crime in Philadelphia.