The Transferred Intent Doctrine: A Hidden Criminal Law Danger

One issue that most criminal lawyers seem to overlook on a regular basis is the transferred intent doctrine. When we look at Black’s Law Dictionary, we find a definition that states when the intention to harm one individual inadvertently causes a second person to be hurt instead, the perpetrator is still held responsible. To be held legally responsible under the law, usually, the court must demonstrate that the person has criminal intent, that is, that the person knew another would be harmed by his or her actions and wanted this harm to occur. We see that the transferred intent doctrine carries with it the requirement of specific intent but the legal definition and the practicality are very different. To learn more about this doctrine, we turned to leaders in the criminal law firm for commentary.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a reputation for having the top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about the transferred intent doctrine, Grabel was quoted as saying, “Just because someone does not mean to hurt someone does not mean they cannot be tried for a crime. This is one of the most overlooked concepts in the field of criminal law. In actuality, if the defendant meant to hurt one person and harmed another they could be charged with both an inchoate and a principal crime. The transferred intent doctrine was meant to broaden criminal prosecutions.”

John Granger runs The Granger Law Office in Tuscon, Arizona. Granger is highly experienced with this legal concept and stated, “The transferred intent doctrine can add to the confusion and misunderstanding the client experiences with his/her case. it is important to have a firm grasp of the applications and complexities of the doctrine to be able to explore all possible defenses and to better explain why the charges were brought against the client.”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and practices a great deal of criminal law. When asked about the transferred intent doctrine, McManus stated, “More often than not the prosecution will utilize this legal concept to induce a plea. The prosecutor will charge with the principle and an inchoate crime and offer to drop the attempt charge. The transferred intent doctrine provides a tremendous amount of ammunition to the state’s case.”

Jeremy Tatum is a criminal defense attorney in Saginaw, Michigan and explained, “When you look at academic disciplines such as the Michigan Bar Exam, we see the theory of transferred intent generally appear in tort law. This is problematic to the young attorney that has not had any academic exposure to the law. As a criminal defense lawyer, we need to stay one step ahead of the game.”

Grabel went on to add, “In Michigan, we always turn to the case of “People v. Dumas” (454 Mich. 390) for guidance and a close reading of that case displays the value of how jury instructions can influence the doctrine.”

When we look at the transferred intent doctrine, we see a concept that truly broadens the field of criminal defense. By overlooking the concept, we leave our client opened to added charges and a less advantageous outcome. To understand the theory allows the defense lawyer to provide an added layer of protection to their client’s constitutional protection.

William Amadeo is a partner at Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates and “Of Counsel” for Timothy McIlwain in New Jersey. Amadeo is licensed in Michigan and New Jersey and has also practiced law in California and the federal court system. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo is the co-host of the upcoming podcast “The Jail Visit” with Jeremy Tatum and is a staff writer for “The Chronicle News” and other media outlets. Amadeo can be reached at

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