People v. Conley

Illinois Appellate Court, 1989.

187 Ill.App.3d 234, 134 Ill.Dec. 855, 543 N.E.2d 138.

Dressler, p. 135-137


Facts: Conley hit a kid in the face with a wine bottle.  The victim broke his jaw and permanent negative effects.  Conley was found guilty of aggravated battery on the basis that the victim suffered permanent injury.  The defendant appealed, arguing that the State failed to prove there was a permanent disability and that Conley intended to cause a permanent disability.


Issue: Primarily, did the defendant intend to cause permanent disability?


Rule: Under Illinois law, someone intends to do something when that something is the conscious objective of his conduct.  Someone does something knowingly when they are consciously aware that something is practically certain to happen based on his conduct.


Analysis: The court reasons that according to the aggravated battery statute, it must be proven that either it was the defendant’s goal to achieve a particular harm or that the defendant was “practically certain” that the harm would follow from his conduct.  The court reasons that the circumstances taken in total suggest that the intent to cause permanent disability could be inferred.


Conclusion: The court upholds the conviction.


Notes and Questions


1.     The actus reus of battery is clear, the mens rea is less clear.  Simple battery, at common law, was a misdemeanor, but aggravated battery was a felony.

2.     As far as result crimes go, intent includes Illinois “intent” and Illinois “knowledge” at common law.  If the example presented occurred in Illinois, a court might find that Roger killed Zachary with “intent” and killed his wife with “knowledge”.

3.     It seems that it is usually true that one can reasonably infer that a person intends the foreseeable consequences of their actions.  However, intent cannot be presumed, but rather must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  The jury is not barred from using their common sense.

4.     This is very similar to the concept of transferred intent in intentional torts.  Dressler and others argue that transferred intent is unnecessary to obtain a just result.  They say that even if, for example, the human being killed was different than the human being the defendant intended to kill, the actus reus and mens rea are still present under the common forms of the criminal homicide statute.  The difficulty arises, Dressler argues, when you try to transfer intent not only between different victims, but different crimes.  This holds in torts, but it is argued it ought not in criminal law.  In the case where a defendant intends to kill a woman but instead causes the death of a fetus after it is born, there are some word problems.  D intends to kill a human being.  The fetus is not a human being (under, for example, California law) at the time of the stabbing.  However, the fetus is a human being at the time of its death.  I see this as analogous to a situation where D runs through X with a sword and doesn’t see Y standing behind X.  Say X only gets wounded but Y gets killed.  D should be convicted of intent-to-kill murder of Y.  Therefore, by analogy, D should be convicted of intent-to-kill murder of the fetus.  I don’t see a problem with this.  If D intended to murder someone, and someone got murdered, and D was the cause of their death, then D should be convicted of their murder.

5.     D could absolutely be convicted of two murders.  Again, if D runs through X with a sword, and Y is standing behind X and D manages to kill both X and Y, D should be convicted of two murders.  In the case where Y is merely wounded, D should be convicted of murder and attempted murder.  In the other case, D should be convicted of attempted murder of X and murder of Y.  If D intends to kill someone, I don’t think the consequences of D’s actions should have much bearing on D’s conviction and punishment.  In fact, a utilitarian might make an argument that the penalty for attempted murder should be just as high as that for murder.  If I was going to argue against the application of transferred intent, I would argue first that transferred intent is properly the realm of torts and should not be applicable to the criminal law.  Next, I would make a retributivist argument that if D didn’t mean to do something to a particular person, D shouldn’t have to pay for what he did to that person.  Finally, in terms of policy, I might argue that unbounded use of transferred intent would uncontrollably increase the number of prosecutable crimes and criminals and would overwhelm the justice system.

6.     There are three types of “general intent/specific intent” dichotomies: (1) “General intent” may refer to an offense for which no particular mental state is mentioned in the statute.  “Specific intent”, on the other hand, could refer to an offense that sets out a particular mental state as part of the crime.  (2) “Specific intent” may also mean the mens rea element of “intent” or “knowledge”, whereas “general intent” may mean “recklessness” or “negligence”.  (3) Furthermore, “general intent” may mean any mental state that only relates to the acts that constitute a crime, whereas “specific intent” would mean, in this case, a special mental element above and beyond the “general intent”.  When you have a specific intent crime, there are typically three types: (1) intent to commit a future act, (2) proof of a special motive, and (3) proof of awareness of attendant circumstances.

A.   Here, there is specific intent to commit a future act: the “intent to steal”.

B.    This is a “general intent” crime.

C.   This is a “specific intent” crime which requires knowledge of the attendant circumstance that the property is stolen.

D.   This is a “specific intent” crime which requires the intent to commit a future act: the “intent to commit a felony”.


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