purposely | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Purposely is a mental state in criminal law that refers to an intentional action taken with the purpose of achieving a specific result or consequence.

Under criminal law, a defendant can only be found guilty if the prosecution can prove that the defendant acted with a particular mental state, or mens rea, at the time of the offense. The mental state of “purposely” is one of the most culpable mental states, as it requires the defendant to have intentionally acted with the goal of bringing about a specific result. This means that the defendant must have had a conscious desire or intention to cause the outcome in question.

For example, if a person purposely shoots and kills someone, it means that they intended to kill that person and acted with the specific goal of causing their death. However, if the person accidentally shot someone while cleaning their gun, they did not act purposely, as they did not have the intention to cause harm.

Purposely is often distinguished from other mental states, such as knowingly or recklessly, which do not require the same level of intent. “Knowingly” refers to an awareness that one’s actions will result in a particular outcome, while “recklessly” refers to a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that one’s actions will result in harm.

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Last Modified: 03/13/2023


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