What is Criminal Law Part 3: Intent

A person clearly intends to commit an offence when his/her purpose is to bring about, by his/her conduct, the constituent elements of the offence in an act prohibited by law and commits without just cause or excuse. This is also known as direct intention.

“With intent to” may also include consequences which may not necessarily follow from the criminal acts, but which an accused knows will almost certainly occur. Therefore, the more probable the consequences, the more likely the accused intended for it.

Intention, being a thought process, can only usually be proved by drawing inferences from the surrounding circumstances and the actions of the accused.

What’s the difference between intention and motive?

Motive is not the same as intention. A bad motive isn’t reason enough to convict a person of a crime, just like how a good motive can’t be used as an excuse for acquittal.

It is not necessary for the prosecution to prove the motive of the accused. However, it may be relevant in determining the intention of the accused. You can have the motive to hurt someone and yet not do anything about it. An intent involves a proactive action to hurt someone.

Now, here are other concepts which are closely related to ‘intention’. 

Intention and joint enterprise – When a criminal act is committed by a person, or multiple people with one common intention, or even further than the common intention, then each person will be liable for the act like it was committed by that person alone. This can apply to assault cases, regardless of the number of attackers.

Negligence and rashness – Negligence refers to the failure to comply with the standard of conduct, knowing that an act may involve a high probability of causing injury to others and yet, choosing not to take any precautionary measures. Texting while driving is a typical example of negligence.

Rashness may occur when an accused is aware that mischievous and illegal consequences may follow from his/her action, but with the hope that it will not happen because sufficient precautions have been taken. An example would be to assault someone as a prank, but the victim suffers a legitimate injury.

To determine the guilt or innocence of an accused person charged with negligent conduct, a test is done to consider whether or not, a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have been aware of the likelihood of damage or injury to others resulting from such conduct, and if adequate steps and proper precautions to avoid damage or injury were taken.

The test is objective, in the sense that the situation must be one fraught with potential risk of injury to others, and yet subjective, in that such a situation should have arisen by reason of some fault on the part of the accused.

Negligence is defined as a lesser form of recklessness; Proof of negligence is not enough to prove recklessness.

Unlawfully or Illegally – These words, when used in any statutory provision implies an offence or an action prohibited by law, or which provides the ground for civil action. The words “legally bound to do” means that it will be considered illegal if the person doesn’t do it.

Maliciously or Malignantly – Malice, by definition, is the intent to cause a particular harm to someone or something, and is of the same general nature as recklessness. 

Malicious and malignant are synonymous with the latter implying a sort of general malice.

Wilfully – When the word ‘wilful’ is used, it refers to an action that was committed intentionally or purposely, which is the opposite of accidentally or negligently. The motive is generally irrelevant.

Knowingly – This implies that the prosecution has to prove some form of mens rea – the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing. 

If the accused made an untrue representation knowing or believing it to be untrue, or was even unsure if it is true, then the court is entitled to infer that the accused acted with knowledge of the relevant facts unless there is evidence to prove otherwise.

Recklessness – This refers to the conduct which creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing harm, and a conscious disregard of indifference to the risk. This state of mind can also sometimes be described as ‘rash’. 

Such person is not required to possess the expert knowledge regarding the risk or consequences of the act.

Causes – This involves the degree of dominance or control over the person during the unlawful act. However, if there is some intervening act which breaks the chain of causation, then the accused may not be liable. 

In other words, whoever was causing the offence must be proven to have been in a position of control, dominance or influence to decide whether to commit the act or not. The issue of causation is essentially a question of fact.

Wanton conduct denotes an unreasonable or malicious risk of harm and being indifferent to the consequences and voluntarily refers to the causation of effects, rather than the act which gives rise to those effects. 

This means that if someone sets fire to a building without the intention of causing death even after knowing that the act may cause a death, then the accused would have caused death voluntarily.

This can be further defined by the following three situations:

  1. When he/she intends to cause a result;
  2. When he/she knows the act is likely to cause a result; and
  3. When he/she has reason to believe the likelihood of causing a result. 

To find out more, feel free to contact us to speak to our team of lawyers led by Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu.

Mr Amarjit has a vast knowledge in Singapore’s laws and has defended numerous clients, including some highly-publicised criminal cases. He has guided clients over the years with his valuable experience and compassionate approach, and is supported by a strong team of lawyers.

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