Intent And Knowledge Matter In Criminal Defense

People are fond of the notion that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. However, people who work in criminal defense law may tell you otherwise in some cases. Some crimes require the defendant to be aware that they are breaking the law and are acting knowingly in furtherance of an offense. Intent and knowledge mean a lot, so let's look at why they may matter to your defense.

Criminal Intent

Many offenses are crimes of intent. Much of the difference between murder and manslaughter, for example, boils down to intent. Someone who committed a high-degree murder did so with the goal of ending a human life. Conversely, virtually all manslaughter cases involve perhaps recklessness or negligence but not intent. There are degrees of both offenses in between, but those degrees still largely hinge on whether the defendant meant for something bad to happen or at least knew very well things could go wrong.


A person must also know they're committing an offense while it happens in most cases. One of the reasons people who want to prosecute trespassers have to post signs on their properties is to prove any potential defendants knew what they were doing. Otherwise, a trespasser might simply tell the cops they didn't know they weren't allowed on the property.

Proving Intent

The prosecution must prove intent and knowledge of wrongdoing in most criminal cases. If the state accuses an accountant of fraud, for example, the prosecutor would likely point to the accountant's training as evidence they understood the law. Then the prosecution might use emails, texts, receipts, and phone records to show the accountant had knowingly committed fraud.

Disproving Intent

Fortunately, the defense doesn't have to prove anything when it comes to intent or knowledge. In fact, a defendant might elect to not even present a defense on the grounds the prosecution has no case. After all, if you didn't do anything, why would you have intended or known anything? In many cases, it might be simple as saying the prosecution hasn't met its burden to prove knowledge of the facts or law along with intent.

Get A Lawyer Early On

For many defendants, the goal should be to just avoid doing the prosecutor's job for them. To that end, you should hire a defense attorney early in the process. If a cop or prosecutor wants to interview you about a criminal matter, then your lawyer will be ready to sit in and tell you which questions to answer and how.