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The Role of “Intent” in a Florida Criminal Case


“Intent” is often a key element of a criminal offense. Prosecutors must prove a defendant acted with intent when they committed an alleged offense. Depending on the facts of a given criminal case, this can mean either general or specific intent.

Specific intent, as the name suggests, means the defendant acted with foresight to achieve a particular result. For example, if a person is accused of first-degree murder, the prosecution normally must show the defendant acted with specific intent to kill the victim.

General intent, in contrast, means a defendant acted recklessly or in a manner where they should have known their actions might hurt someone. Say a person has too many drinks and gets behind the wheel of their car. Prosecutors can cite this as evidence of general intent to commit DWI. Sure, the defendant never intended to harm any specific individual, but their actions demonstrated a reckless disregard for the safety of other people on the road.

Court Finds Defendant Acted with “Specific Intent” in Using Murder Victim’s Car as Getaway Vehicle

Even when an alleged crime involves specific intent, however, prosecutors do not necessarily need to prove there was a great amount of forethought of advanced planning involved. Specific intent may include “spur of the moment” actions that nevertheless violate a clearly established law.

Here is an example taken from a recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, Vasata v. State. This case involved a horrific triple murder that took place in 2017. Yet the appellate court largely confined its opinion to one of the lesser charges involved, that of grand theft auto.

The case can be briefly summarized as follows: Following a Super Bowl party in 2017, three men were found dead in a residential backyard. Police later found an abandoned car on I-95 that belonged to one of the victims. Prosecutors argued the defendant was one of the shooters and had taken the car to flee the scene.

The defendant said he was actually dragged into the car after being shot himself. In any event, the defense argued there was no proof of “specific intent” to steal the car. The jury disagreed, and found the defendant guilty of grand theft auto and other charges, including the murders.

Before the Fourth District, the defendant again argued there was insufficient evidence to prove specific intent on the grand theft auto charge. But the appellate court upheld the jury’s verdict. The court noted the evidence presented at trial suggested the defendant “would have known [he] would need to steal a care to make a quick get-away.” Even if the defendant had not planned to steal the car originally, the fact he acted to “temporarily” deprive the rightful owner of his car to flee a crime scene was sufficient to demonstrate specific intent.

Speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Intent is just one of many elements prosecutors must establish in any criminal case. An experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney can aggressively represent you in court and hold the prosecution to its burden of proof. If you need representation, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.



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