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Intent and mental state factor into criminal laws

When a Kentucky state prosecutor levels criminal charges against a person the specific facts of the alleged crime will be used to select the precise charges. The concept of "mens rea" will be applied to make the decision. This Latin term describes the legal process of determining the extent of guilt found within the person's mental state at the time of the crime. It splits crimes between those in which people intended to commit a crime and those that involved people who did not mean to do anything wrong.

As an example, theft is a crime that requires that the person not only steal something but also intend to keep it permanently. Someone who takes a person's cellphone but intends to return it would technically not be stealing. If the taking of an object can be shown to be done with the purpose of depriving the owner permanently, then the definition of theft could be met.

Another example that illustrates a lack of intention would be a battery case in which the defendant insists that the attack was accidental. The person did not intend to grab the person in an offensive or harmful way. A desire to cause harmful contact must be proven to justify the charge.

When a person is charged with crimes in Kentucky, the right to legal representation can be exercised. A criminal defense attorney will base a strategy to use at or before trial on the nature of the charges and the circumstances of the case. For example, embezzlement charges require that a prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant who was lawfully in possession of another person's property had the specific intent of converting it to his or her own use or that of a third party. An attorney could seek a dismissal of the charges if such intent can not be proven.

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