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Joseph Lyons

The state of Iowa will normally need to prove two things to convict someone of a crime: That a person intentionally made a specific act (or failure to act) with a particular “guilty” state of mind.  

To commit a crime, a person must intend to do an act which is against the law. The person does not need to know the act is against the law, if the person knew they were doing the act voluntarily. If the action was made by mistake or accident, then a crime did not take place.  This article will discuss:

  • What are general and specific intent crimes?
  • What are the kinds of intent in Iowa Statues?

What are general intent and specific intent crimes?

All crimes involve some intentional action, or movement. However, not ever action results in what a person intended. Not everyone who intends to hit someone else also intends to kill them, for instance.  

Crimes are divided into two kinds: general intent crimes and specific intent crimes. General intent crimes only require the prosecutor to show the defendant intended the action that happened. Specific intent crimes require the prosecutor to show the defendant intended the action and the result of the crime.

When the definition of the crime in the law only lists the required act, without reference to do a further act or achieve a further result, the court will assume the law means for the crime to be of general intent.  The prosecutor will only need to show the defendant intend to do the particular act. The court will focus on the result of the defendant’s purposeful actions, not their mind state. An example is operating while under the influence of alcohol (OWI)

If the definition of the crime talks about the defendant’s intent to do a further act or achieve some additional consequence or result, the crime is deemed a specific intent crime. The prosecutor will need to show the defendant intended the action and the result.  

What are the kinds of intent in Iowa statutes?

As discussed, specific intent is the intent to do something other than the mere action of the crime. There are various levels of specific intent as developed by Iowa courts.

If a statute requires someone to act purposefully, it means the prosecutor will need to show the defendant meant to engage in the conduct which achieved the result.  

If a statute requires someone to “knowingly” do something, that person knows of the existence of the facts which constitute a crime, or a knowledge of the essential facts, but does not require the knowledge of the unlawfulness of the act or failure to act. However, if a crime contains the language “knowingly violates,” The state will need to show the person know they were committing the crime charged of.  

If a statute requires the defendant to show a defendant acted “recklessly,” it means the person commits conduct which shows a willful and extremely carless disregard for the safety of others. The action taken must be highly dangerous and done while not caring about the consequences. The person does not need to intend that someone else be harmed, but the person should know harm will more likely than not result from the act.  Involuntary manslaughter is a crime with which a reckless action is an element. Other caselaw has hound delivering powerful drugs to a person they knew to be already severely addicted to drugs to also be reckless conduct.  

Finally, some statutes include a standard of negligence. Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to avoid harm to the public that the defendant could predict would happen as a result of the act.  

There are other criminal statutes which discuss kinds of intent, for instance the malicious intent element of murder. However, the above four are the primary ones used.  

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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