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When Is An Act Done “Willfully” Under the California Penal Code?

The California Penal Code defines a multitude of important terms for determining liability under the State’s criminal statutes. Successfully charging and convicting for many criminal acts hinges on whether an act was willful or intentional. These terms are defined in Preliminary Provisions of the California Penal Code.

The California Assembly determines the intent required for the commission of a crime. At trial, the presence or absence of the requisite intent is a question of fact. Higher courts will not disturb on appeal any determination of the requisite intent by the trial court that is based on substantial evidence.

It is interesting that the term “willfully” is the first word defined by the code section. When applied to the intent with which an act is done or omitted, “willfully” implies simply a purpose or willingness to commit the act, or the omission. It does not require any intent to violate the law, or to injure another, or to acquire any advantage.

Thus, the fact that you didn’t intend to hurt anyone when you ignited the stick of dynamite lying on the table in the hardware store is irrelevant. You “willfully” committed the act, and therefore are responsible for the act’s consequences. This does not necessarily mean that you intended to violate the law or cause any harm or injury; rather, it means that you purposely did an act that could have resulted in harm or injury.

John Patrick Dolan is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. Certification as a Specialist in Criminal Law is the highest achievement awarded by the State Bar of California to attorneys in the field of criminal law. The attorneys at the Dolan Law Offices have decades of experience defending individuals charged with violent felonies. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

When Is An Act Done "Willfully" Under the California Penal Code?

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