The Tyco corporate fraud case is bringing a new public focus to the important question of criminal intent. One Tyco juror’s view that criminal intent had not been proved led to a deadlock in the jury room, resulting in publicity that indirectly caused the judge to declare a mistrial. The juror, Ruth B. Jordan, says that whatever the defendants’ excesses, they thought they were entitled to them, and thus could not be convicted because they had not intended to do anything wrong, reports the New York Times.
Other jurors have said that they were not sure what was going on in the minds of the two men, L. Dennis Kozlowski, ex-chief executive, and Mark H. Swartz, the former chief financial officer. They were charged with looting Tyco and its investors of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The challenge for jurors is deciding what intent is. Jurors do not have to find that the defendants knew their actions were illegal. If that were the standard, most people would plead ignorance of the law and would be acquitted. To convict, jurors must find that the defendants knew that their actions were wrong. It can be difficult for a jury to reach that conclusion because defendants may say that they thought that what they did was proper and that they therefore could not have acted with criminal intent. “What you’re talking about is what’s going on inside someone’s head,” said a former federal prosecutor. “The closest you can get to doing it directly is if the person whose intent is at issue said stuff to other people. That is the most direct way.”