Intention Is Everything (?)
“The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” — John Burroughs
“All that counts in life is intention.” — Andrea Bucelli
There’s plenty of opinions out there on what, exactly, we mean by the word “intention”. A new age guru may give you one answer, and folks who deny humans have any sort of free will may tell you the word is meaningless. Scientists are late comers to the “intention” game. Experiments conducted at Princeton, Cambridge, and the University of Arizona all point to the fact that our intentions can physically affect the outside world (See Lynne McTaggart’s book “The Intention Experiment”). How can our intentions affect physical things? No one really knows the mechanism, but the effects can be measured, much in the way Newton had no idea how gravity pulls an apple from a tree, yet he could still observe and measure the effect. Intention has even crept into physics. Quantum physicists have analyzed the role our conscious intentions play in the behavior of entangled particles, and how our intentions effect the double-slit experiment (Richard Feynman calls this experiment the greatest physics experiment ever). Still, no one is really sure why things work this way–but quantum mechanics does work, with amazing accuracy. That being said, I cringe whenever QM (sounds like I know more when I abbreviate, right?) is brought up because it’s become such a cliche.
It is odd to see human “intention” influence the outcome of a scientific experiment. Such intervention defies common sense. Common sense dictates that people will not be sent to prison for bad acts they did not intend to commit. Makes sense, right? Well, common sense also tells us that the earth isn’t moving through space (the ground doesn’t feel like it’s moving, does it?). Common sense can betray you, and that’s particularly true of the law. Don’t apply common sense to a collection of laws written by people that, on average, have little common sense. I have numerous examples of how your tax payer dollars have been wasted on crimes never intended to be committed. For example, years ago I had a client that was waiting tables at a local restaurant. He went to his co-worker’s 19th birthday party. Cute girl. Single guy. Co-workers. Yes, after the birthday party, they had sex. Some time later, he was arrested for lewd act on a minor. Yes, the girl just turned 16. We call this statutory rape. Turns out, she was lying about her age so she could serve alcohol as part of her waitress duties. The big candles on her cake announcing a “HAPPY NINETEENTH!” were no defense to the charge. Same goes for child porn. Should you be unlucky enough to click on “Grannies Gone Wild” yet somehow find yourself diverted to much younger folks–you may go to prison for something you never intended to view. Technically, you don’t even have to view it, if the 0’s & 1’s show up somewhere on your hard drive, you can land in prison. Now, should we punish acts void of criminal intent? Are there some criminal accusations for which our good intentions can provide a defense?
Today we’re going to take a look at Allen v. State. 194 So. 3d 578 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2016). Allen was convicted of aggravated battery and felony criminal mischief, and his case arose out of facts as old as time itself. He was in a bar fight. I’m fairly certain that the invention of beer dates back to the Egyptians, and bar fights began soon thereafter. Statistically speaking, fights that happen in bars tend to end up as “aggravated battery” charges, versus run of the mill misdemeanor battery charges. Yes, with alcohol fueling everyone’s bad decisions, these fights tend to cause more damage than other fights. Shocking, I know. And no, I don’t have any statistics to back up the above assertions, just hear me now and believe me later. Thanks.
Back to Allen. Apparently, Allen “won the fight”. I say this because he was convicted of aggravated battery, and he’s probably doing prison time. In 99% of all fights, the winner goes to jail and/or prison. [Side Bar] Real fighters don’t randomly pick fights in bars or traffic disputes. My cousin Bryan Guidry is a professional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter, winning a Gold Medal in Rio, 2010 (beating the Brazilians at their own game is not easy, not even sure an American has done so before or since). Bryan may be the toughest guy you will ever meet, but Bryan loses every bar fight. He knows he can take down most folks on Earth, but to do the damage he is capable of–and maybe the damage some drunken ego deserves–he knows this would only send him to prison. So, Bryan is a man of self restraint. Pretty much the opposite of what we’re dealing with in most aggravated battery cases.
So, let me try to stay on track here. Back to Allen. During the fight, the scuffle caused Allen to collide into the bar itself and the bar top became dislodged, causing lots of damage to the bar top and the machines behind the bar. Allen was convicted of a felony criminal mischief, meaning that the damage caused exceeded $1,000. If the damage was less than $1,000, it would be a misdemeanor criminal mischief. Allen appealed his conviction, arguing that he never intended to cause damage to the bar. He intended to beat up the guy attacking him. The very definition of felony criminal mischief, found in Florida Statute 806.13(1)(a), requires a showing that the accused “willfully and maliciously injures or damages” the property of another. Did the state present any proof that Allen intended to damage the bar? No. The only evidence presented was that of a serious fight, which happened to damage bar equipment. As such, the appellate court overturned Allen’s conviction, noting that no one can be guilty of damaging property “where the defendant’s true intention is to cause harm to the person of another.” id. Contrast this decision with cases involving “transferred intent”, meaning that a person tries to shoot his wife, but misses, killing someone he didn’t intend to kill, but his “intent to kill” his wife transfers to the other person, thus sustaining a murder conviction.
Yes, our legislature is all over the place when it comes to “intention”. If the crime is serious, like statutory rape, or possession of child pornography, it seems like the whole issue of intention is ignored. But, on some lesser crimes like criminal mischief, they’ll let intention creep into the defense.