Criminal Law

250. Union of Act and Intent: General Intent

Every crime [or other allegation] charged in this case requires proof of the union, or joint operation, of act and wrongful intent [except for the crime[s] charged in Count[s] ].

In order to be guilty of the crime[s] of <insert name[s] of alleged offense[s]> [or the allegation[s] of <insert name[s] of enhancement[s]>], a person must not only commit the prohibited act [or fail to do the required act], but must do so intentionally or on purpose. The act required is explained in the instructions for each crime [or allegation]. However, it is not required that he or she intend to break the law.

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

The court has a sua sponte duty to instruct on the union of act and general criminal intent. (People v. Jeffers (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 917, 920- 923 [49 Cal.Rptr.2d 86].) However, this instruction must not be used if the crime requires a specific mental state, such as knowledge or malice, even if the crime is classified as a general intent offense. In such cases, the court must give CALCRIM No. 251, Union of Act and Intent: Specific Intent or Mental State.

If the case involves both offenses requiring a specific intent or mental state and offenses that do not, the court may give CALCRIM No. 252, Union of Act and Intent: General and Specific Intent Together, in place of this instruction.

The court should specify for the jury which offenses require only a general criminal intent by inserting the names of the offenses where indicated in the second paragraph of the instruction. (People v. Hill (1967) 67 Cal.2d 105, 118 [60 Cal.Rptr. 234, 429 P.2d 586].)

If the defendant is charged with aiding and abetting or conspiracy to commit a general-intent offense, the court must instruct on the specific

intent required for aiding and abetting or conspiracy. (See People v. McCoy (2001) 25 Cal.4th 1111, 1117-1118 [108 Cal.Rptr.2d 188, 24 P.3d 1210]; People v. Bernhardt, supra, 222 Cal.App.2d at pp. 586-587.)

If the defendant is also charged with a criminal negligence or strict liability offense, insert the name of the offense where indicated in the first sentence. The court may also give CALCRIM No. 253, Union of Act and Intent: Criminal Negligence, or CALCRIM No. 254, Union of Act and Intent: Strict-Liability Crime.

Defenses—Instructional Duty

"A person who commits a prohibited act 'through misfortune or by accident, when it appears that there was no evil design, intention or culpable negligence' has not committed a crime." (People v. Jeffers (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 917, 922 [49 Cal.Rptr.2d 86] [quoting Pen. Code, 26].) Similarly, an honest and reasonable mistake of fact may negate general criminal intent. (People v. Hernandez (1964) 61 Cal.2d 529, 535-536 [39 Cal.Rptr. 361, 393 P.2d 673].) If there is sufficient evidence of these or other defenses, such as unconsciousness, the court has a sua sponte duty to give the appropriate defense instructions. (See Defenses and Insanity, CALCRIM No. 3400 et seq.)

Authority

Statutory Authority. Pen. Code, 20; see also Evid. Code, 665, 668.

Instructional Requirements. People v. Hill (1967) 67 Cal.2d 105, 117 [60 Cal.Rptr. 234, 429 P.2d 586]; People v. Bernhardt (1963) 222 Cal.App.2d 567, 586-587 [35 Cal.Rptr. 401]; People v. Jeffers (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 917, 920-923 [49 Cal.Rptr.2d 86].

History of General-Intent Requirement. Morissette v. United States (1952) 342 U.S. 246 [72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed.2d 288]; see also People v. Garcia (2001) 25 Cal.4th 744, 754 [107 Cal.Rptr.2d 355, 23 P.3d 590].

Secondary Sources

1 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Elements, 1-5.

4 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 85, Submission to Jury and Verdict, 85.03[2][e] (Matthew Bender).

6 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 140, Challenges to Crimes, 140.02[1], [2] (Matthew Bender).

Related Issues

Sex Registration and Knowledge of Legal Duty

The offense of failure to register as a sex offender requires proof that the defendant actually knew of his or her duty to register. (People v. Garcia (2001) 25 Cal.4th 744, 754 [107 Cal.Rptr.2d 355, 23 P.3d 590].) For the charge of failure to register, it is error to give an instruction on general criminal intent that informs the jury that a person is "acting with general criminal intent, even though he may not know that his act or conduct is unlawful." (People v. Barker (2004) 34 Cal.4th 345, 360 [18 Cal.Rtpr.3d 260]; People v. Edgar (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 210, 219 [127 Cal.Rptr.2d 662].) In such cases, the court should give CALCRIM No. 251, Union of Act and Intent: Specific Intent or Mental State, instead of this instruction.

(New January 2006)