Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
In re D.A., 197 P.3d 849 (Kan. Ct. App. 2008).
This case addresses the following issue:
What type of intent is necessary to be convicted of criminal damage to property?
This case explored the issue of what type of intent was necessary to be convicted of criminal damage to property. In exploring this case, the court held that criminal damage to property was a general intent crime, meaning that the only intent the plaintiff needed to convict the defendant was that the defendant purposefully or knowingly caused the damage. Id. at 859.
In this case, the 12-year-old defendant was charged with burglary and criminal damage to property after vandalizing a church. Id. at 852. The charges arose from an incident on October 8, 2006 where the defendant was discovered by the pastor with various items of church property strewn around him. Id. Upon entering the church, the pastor observed widespread damage from vandalism throughout the church. Id. Nine rooms in total were damaged including: torn off walls, smashed light bulbs, ceiling fans with missing blades, tipped over pianos, graffiti on the bathroom doors, water-damaged floors, a smashed chandelier, broken bathroom mirrors, paper-clogged toilets, and glitter glue on the carpets and steps. Id. In the end, the defendant was judged as a juvenile offender and convicted of criminal damage to property. Id. at 853.
On appeal, the defendant argued that he lacked the mental maturity (diminished capacity) to form the intent necessary to be convicted of criminal damage to property. Id. at 859. In response to the defendant’s argument, the court held that criminal damage to property was a general intent crime (defendant purposefully or knowingly committed the crime). Id. Therefore, the court noted that the only intent the plaintiff needed to prove to convict the defendant was that the defendant purposefully or knowingly caused damage to the church. Id. Furthermore, the court stated that as long as the defendant’s actions inside the church were not accidental or involuntary, the defendant possessed the required culpable intent. Id.
In further addressing the defendant’s argument, the court concluded that it was clear from the evidence that the defendant’s actions were not accidents and that he knew what he was doing. Id. For example, the defendant intentionally entered the church, intentionally broke windows, lights, and mirrors, intentionally caused the sinks and toilets to overflow, intentionally overturned expensive electronic organs, and intentionally wrote profanity on the women’s bathroom doors. Id. Additionally, the defendant’s expert witness testified that his extensive developmental disorders were not so debilitating as to prevent him from controlling his actions. Id. The court mentioned that the diminished capacity standard in Kansas focused on whether a defendant had the required criminal state of mind, not on his or her ability to make moral choices. Id. Therefore, the court held that the defendant intended the consequences of his actions so his diminished capacity argument failed. Id.
In conclusion, general intent (knowingly or purposefully causing damage) was the only intent necessary to convict the defendant of criminal damage to property.