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Utah Code 76-2-105 - Transferred Intent

Certain criminal offenses in Utah require a specific intent to cause harm, injury, or damage to either a person or property. For these offenses, in addition to the intent to commit an act, the prosecutor must prove also that the defendant had the specific intent to cause some harmful result.

Under Utah Code 76-2-105, a defendant's intent to cause one specific harm may be "transferred" if it turns out that some other harm resulted from the defendant's conduct. Utah's "transferred intent" statutes states, "Where intentionally causing a result is an element of an offense, that element is established even if a different person than the actor intended was killed, injured, or harmed, or different property than the actor intended was damaged or otherwise affected."

The effect of this "transferred intent" law is close a potential loophole whereby a defendant might claim innocense based on the intent to harm someone else. In plain English, this law says that it does not matter that you intended to harm someone else. If you intended harm, and harm was caused, you are responsible and can be found guilty as to the victim that was actually harmed.

Example: Transferred Intent in the Context of Criminal Mischief

Consider the following hypothetical scenario involving a case of criminal mischief:

Albert throws a rock at the side of Beth's car as it drives down the road. Because Albert has bad aim, he misses Beth's car. Instead, the rock bounces off the pavement and hits the windshield of Carl's car. The windshield is shattered, causing Carl to lose control of his vehicle. Carl crashes into a parked car belonging to David. Both Carl's car and David's care are totaled as a result of the accident.

Albert may actually had only the intent to cause a small dent to the side of Beth's car. Assuming the repair costs of such a dent were under $500, Albert would have been faced with a class B misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief (for intentionally causing damage to Beth's property). Because Albert's conduct actually caused damage to property owned by Carl and David, and assuming that the total value of damage to both cars is more than $5,000, Albert can instead be charged with a second-degree felony charge of criminal mischief.

Under the principles of transferred intent, it does not matter that Beth's property was not actually damaged. Because Albert had the intent to cause damage to Beth's property, and because Albert's conduct actually resulted in damage to the property of Carl and David, Albert's intent is considered to be transferred from Beth to Carl and David. Thus, Albert can be criminally charged with felony criminal mischief.

Example: Transferred Intent in the Context of Aggravated Assault and Homicide

Consider next the following more complicated hypothetical scenario:

Alex shoots a gun at Bob, intending only to wound Bob. Alex has bad aim, and misses Bob. Chad, happens to be standing with a crowd of people immediately behind Bob. The bullet misses Bob, but Chad is grazed by the bullet and receives only a minor injury.

The use of a dangerous weapon (e.g. a gun) in committing an assault constitutes an aggravated assault under Utah criminal law. In this hypothetical case, Alex did not intend to cause any injury to Chad. But under Utah Code 76-2-104, Alex's intent is considered to be transferred from Bob to Chad. Alex can therefore be charged with an aggravated assault against Chad.

Utah's statutes defining assault and aggravated assault involve conduct that actually causes injury as well as conduct that is intended only as a threat. Thus, it is also conceivable that a prosecutor might file charges of aggravated assault against Alex for both the threatened action against Bob and the actual injury to Chad.

Consider now the following variation on the above hypothetical:

Instead of wounding the intended target Bob, the bullet from Alex's gun grazes Chad, then hits Don who is also standing with the crowd of people behind Bob. Don is wounded in the chest, and dies as a result of the gunshot.

In this hypothetical case, Alex may still face charges of aggravated assault against Bob for the threatened use of a dangerous weapon, and against Chad based on transferred intent. But Alex may also be charged with murder for causing the death of Don.

A murder charge in this hypothetical case need not depend on principles of transferred intent. Instead, a prosecutor can look to the provisions of Utah's murder statute (76-5-203) which allows for a first-degree murder charge to be filed not only in a case where a defendant intentionally causes the death of another, but also in a case where the defendant acts with "depraved indifference to human life" and engages in conduct which "creates a grave risk of death to another." Utah courts have held that shooting a firearm into a crowd of people meets this "depraved indifference" standard, even if the defendant does not have the actual intent to cause a death.

Choosing a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

Utah Defense AttorneyThe assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be vital to developing and implementing a successful strategy for defending against criminal charges. If you are facing prosecution in a Utah criminal case, the consequences can be serious.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal lawyer Stephen Howard offers legal services to clients throughout Utah. His defense successes have included not guilty verdicts and dismissals for some of the most serious charges on the books in Utah.

Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.

RELATED CRIMINAL CODE SECTIONS
Utah Code 76-2-101 - Mens Rea and Actus Reus
Utah Code 76-2-202 - Accomplice Liability

More Utah Criminal Code Provisions


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