In criminal law in most jurisdictions, assault is defined by statute and the term battery
is not used. However, in civil law, the terms assault
are often used and defined slightly different than each other.
In criminal law, assault can be defined as an act in which no person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to another. For example, if John punches a guy at a bar because the guy won’t give John his seat back, John will likely be charged with assault because he specifically intended to cause physical harm to the other guy by punching him.
In civil law, assault can be defined as an attempt to commit a battery, or the act of placing an individual in apprehension that he or she will be subjected to some type of physical harm. For example, if John swung at the guy at the bar and missed him, John could be charged criminally and civilly for assault, but he could not be charged civilly for battery. If John actually hit the guy at the bar, he could be charged criminally for assault and battery. So, the distinction is that criminal assault generally applies to causing or attempting to cause physical harm, while civil assault only applies to attempting to cause physical harm (and civil battery equates to causing physical harm).
Attempt is a crime that requires an act, done with the specific intent to commit a crime that falls short of completing the actual crime. An attempt crime can be charged with just about any other crime. For example, attempt crimes include attempted murder, attempted burglary, attempted kidnapping, attempted assault, attempted robbery, etc.
For example, if John shoots a gun at Matt multiple times while yelling "I want to kill you," but never hits Matt, John would likely be charged with attempted murder.
At common law, burglary is defined as the breaking and entering into the place of another at nighttime with the intent to commit a felony within that place. So, common law burglary requires the specific intent to commit a felony within that place.
Today, most jurisdictions have codified the term "burglary" under criminal statute. Burglary does not need to be committed at night, and generally if a person enters the place of another to commit any crime that person would be guilty of burglary. For example, if John opens a window to a house, enters the house, and steals a TV without the permission of the homeowner, John has committed burglary.
Conspiracy is a crime that requires some type of agreement between at least two individuals with the specific intent to both enter into the agreement and to achieve a certain goal of the agreement. In other words, two or more individuals must agree to commit some crime and take some concrete step in carrying out the crime. For example, if John and Ted agree to rob a bank, and John goes and buys masks for the robbery and Ted picks up John and drives him to the bank with the intent to rob the bank – they are both guilty of conspiracy to rob the bank (even before either of them enters the bank).
Embezzlement is the fraudulent conversion of the personal property of another individual by a person who is in lawful possession of that property. This crime requires the specific intent to defraud another individual. For example, if John agrees to watch Matt’s bike while he is on vacation, then sells it to someone on Craiglist without Matt’s consent, John is guilty of embezzlement.
Next, we’ll now go over the remaining 5 specific intent crimes on our list.