Posted on 2/11/19

A major component of many criminal law cases is intent. A prosecutor will try to prove what the defendant’s intent was when he or she committed the alleged criminal act. If the requisite intent is there, then the defendant is guilty; if the intent is not there, then the defendant is not guilty.

To prove intent, a prosecutor will present evidence that the defendant had an intent based on the surrounding circumstances. How the defendant acted during certain times and what kind of messages he or she sent at these times will all factor into whether the defendant had the alleged intent required for conviction.

In the recent case of Daniel Montalvo (Montalvo v. State), the question of intent was revisited, with a twist.

Proving Intent

As mentioned, the prosecution will try to prove intent based on the surrounding circumstances. This can be done by examining the defendant’s actions, inactions, and spoken words. If, for instance, the defendant told someone that he intended to commit a crime, then such a statement will carry great weight (notwithstanding possible hearsay issues).

As a defense attorney, the opposing counsel’s job is to disprove those circumstances as a show of intent. If it is clear that a defendant committed a certain act, criminal liability is still only possible when it is proven that the defendant had requisite intent. In such a circumstance, the court’s decision will come down to whether the defendant had the intent associated with committing the crime.


A prosecutor in Shelby County, Texas received a letter from an inmate that stated that the inmate demands the prosecutor cease doing his job or else face retaliation from the Aryan Nation. Specifically, the letter stated that it would kill his children. The prosecutor tracked the letter to an inmate. That inmate claimed that he did not write the letter and it was instead drafted by Montalvo.

The prosecution charged Montalvo with making terrorist threats. He was facing three counts, each of which held severe consequences. The trial court convicted him on all three counts. Each count had a punishment of 25 years to be served concurrently.

Montalvo appealed, claiming that he lacked the requisite intent for making terrorist threats. In an appeal heard before the Texas Appellate Court, Texarkana, Montalvo sought to overturn the charge, claiming that he lacked the intent. Specifically, Montalvo claimed that he was manipulated by the inmate. He was easily manipulated because he had an IQ score of 77, attended a special education school, and stopped formal education after seventh grade. Montalvo did not have a GED. As such, he lacked the ability to form intent and acted specifically due to the manipulation of the inmate.

The court rejected his appeal, reasoning that Montalvo admitted that he knew that the letter had threats. As such, the appellate court relied on the trial court’s decision. This left open the possibility that a person of limited intelligence can claim manipulation if he did not admit his guilt.

Accused of a crime? Speak with the law office of Christopher Abel for aggressive criminal defense representation.

(image courtesy of Micah Boswell) 

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