“Sorry officer, I didn’t mean to run over your foot”
A man by the name of Mr. Fagan was asked to move his car by a police officer. Fagan got into his car and put it in reverse as he was told, but accidentally drove onto the officer’s foot. When the officer told Mr. Fagan to drive off of his foot, Mr. Fagan told him to wait and refused to move his car. Fagan was charged with assaulting a constable in the execution of his duties and the case went to a jury trial. At the trial Mr. Fagan presented the defense that under British law there were two necessary elements to the crime charged. The first element was the act of assaulting the officer (actus reus), and the second element was the mental state (mens rea, or guilty mind). Fagan’s attorney argued that these two elements were required to occur at the same time in order for the crime of assaulting a constable to have been committed. In this case Fagan’s lawyer argued that the two elements had not happened at the same time, and that when Fagan drove onto the officer’s foot, he did not intend to harm him, but accidentally drove onto his foot. At the point where he did intend to continue to do harm to the officer, he only omitted (failed) to move his car off of the officer’s foot. In short, the lawyer argued that Fagan did not commit an overt act which constituted this crime. Unfortunately for Fagan, the jury convicted him and he appealed the case to the appellate court.
The appellate court again decided against Fagan finding that driving onto the officer’s foot and staying there was one long continuous battery (unlawful touching of another), so that when he began intending to continue to hurt the officer, he was still performing the actus reus.
This case brings into question the very important issue of intent in criminal cases. Under Florida law there are normally two types of criminal intent. First is specific intent where the statute at issue requires a heightened intent like first degree murder, robbery, kidnaping, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and burglary.
A second category of criminal conduct is classified as “general intent crimes.” For instance in Florida the crime of “resisting an officer with violence” only requires the accused “knowingly and willfully” impede a police officer in the performance of his or her duties.
With respect to Mr. Fagan’s case, it would be interesting had Mr. Fagan been intoxicated and raised at trial the defense of “voluntary intoxication” and whether that defense would have been permitted by the trial court. Under Florida law the defense of “voluntary intoxication” is permitted in those cases where the crime charged requires a specific intent be proven before guilt may be established. See Miller v. State, 636 So.2d 144 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) and Gonzalez v. State, 488 So.2d 610 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986), and Frey v. State, 708 So.2d 918 (Fla. S.Ct. 1998). Hence, a voluntary intoxication defense is not available to a defendant charged with a “general intent crime” but that defense is available in a “specific intent” crime.