There is a very important concept in the application of criminal law: Intent. Most criminal acts require an element of intent, otherwise the act is generally one of negligence. (Some crimes, while not requiring intent, are criminal because the conduct was criminally negligent, but that is not the subject of this post.)
Whether a crime is one of specific or general intent may be a crucial factor in defense of the crime. Generally, when a crime is defined as an act without intent to achieve a further result, the crime is said to be a general intent crime. For example, the crime of assault is a general intent crime because it is committed for its own end. A specific intent crime is a criminal act that is carried out with the intent to achieve an additional result. Burglary is a classic example of a specific intent crime. Burglary is the act of entering a structure with the intent of committing a theft or any felony.
Not all laws make the distinction as clearly as the burglary law does and it is not always apparent whether a crime is a general or specific intent law. For many crimes, the courts have offered decisions on whether a crime is a general or specific intent crime, but as the California Supreme Court has recognized the terms “specific and general intent” crimes have been difficult to apply. (People v. Hood (1969) 1 Cal.3d 444, 456,) The Court has also cautioned that the “rote application” of general or specific intent should be avoided. (People v. Hering (1999) 20 Cal.4th 440, 445.)