Does the State of Georgia have to Prove Criminal Intent in a DUI Case?

Posted by Richard Lawson | Oct 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

While some crimes require proof that the defendant committed an illegal act on purpose and intended to cause a particular result to be found guilty, other crimes only require that the defendant intended to break the law. DUI is one of the crimes where the intent necessary for a conviction varies from state to state. Georgia has deemed DUI a crime of “general intent.” Therefore, the State does not have to prove that the defendant had criminal intent. All the State has to prove is general intent to drink and drive.  That means the intent to commit the act or acts that are a violation of the statute, not the intent to break the law.  

To be clear, if a person intended to drink, or consume other intoxicants, and then intended to drive, that would be sufficient criminal intent to prove a DUI in Georgia. Essentially, no one sets out to be arrested for a DUI. 

Mens Rea in a Georgia DUI:

One of the key terms when looking at criminal intent is mens rea. Many people are familiar with this term from the movie Legally Blonde but are unsure how it applies to their case. Mens rea is Latin for “guilty mind'. In other words, the Court looks at what the defendant was thinking and whether they intended to do the crime committed.  

In a DUI, the necessary "mens rea" is the intent to consume alcohol, drugs, or intoxicants and the plan to operate a motor vehicle.  Again, a person does not (and never would) have the mens rea to be arrested for DUI.  That would be irrational.  

Criminal intent is broken down into two categories: General Intent and Specific intent:

General intent means that the State only has to prove that the defendant intended to do the act committed. The State does not have to prove that they intended to violate the law. General intent crimes also include crimes that are based on the defendant being reckless or negligent. Even though the accused engaged in reckless conduct, they likely did not have the intent to break the law. 

Specific intent means that the defendant had to intend to break the law. An example is an accusation of burglary, where the defendant has to have the intention to break into someone else's' house and commit a crime. There is an element of mens rea that has to be present for specific intent.  You cannot accidentally break into someone's home with the intent to a theft. 

Here is an example of the difference between general and specific intent:

Imagine a situation involving the death of a person standing on a cliff.  In this hypothetical, the bystander is hit by a person on a bicycle, resulting in their death.

Now imagine that our bike rider did not see the bystander until it was too late, and couldn't stop in time.  They tried their best to slow down but couldn't do anything to avoid hitting the person. They would still would held liable in civil court for monetary damages. They had the general intent to hit the bystander but only because they could not avoid doing it. They could also potentially be charged criminally with involuntary manslaughter or reckless conduct.

In a second example, a person not only sees the bystander but intentionally speeds up to hit the person.  As a result, the bike rider intentionally kills the bystander.  In this situation, the biker would be charged and convicted or murder.

Crimes that are General Intent versus Crimes that are Specific Intent:

Some general intent crimes in Georgia include involuntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide, homicide by vessel, serious injury by vehicle, and almost all Georgia traffic offenses.

Some specific intent crimes in Georgia include murder, burglary, embezzlement, robbery, forgery, shoplifting, and all theft offenses.

How to Tell Whether an Offense Requires Specific or General Intent:

There are a number of crimes where the statute is silent as to whether the crime requires specific or general intent. In these situations, the State will need to prove that a person charged must have acted with specific intent.   As a result, when a jury is instructed on the intent element of a criminal offense, they are usually instructed that the State must prove specific intent.  When the court makes the State prove specific intent, this offers greater protection to the accused.  The court is never wrong when it requires the state to prove specific intent but can be wrong if it only requires proof of general intent.  Some judges always instruct the jury on specific intent to avoid being reversed by a higher court on appeal.

If you have any questions about criminal intent or DUI's in general, please contact our highly experienced Georgia DUI Attorneys today. We are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day to answer your questions. Contact us today.  

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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