All crimes have two key parts, the criminal act done by the perpetrator ("actus reus") and the perpetrator's state of mind when the crime is committed ("mens rea").
General intent refers to the perpetrator's state of mind at the time the crime was committed. A general intent crime requires only an intent by the perpetrator to do an act that the law declares to be a crime even though the perpetrator may not know the act is unlawful. For a general intent crime it is not necessary that the perpetrator intend to cause a specific harm. General intent crimes require no further mental state beyond a willingness to commit the act (crime). When the definition of a criminal offense describes only a specific act, without mentioning an intent to do a further act or achieve a future consequence, the act is considered a general intent crime.
Battery is an example of a general intent crime. It is a general intent crime because it is sufficient that the defendant intentionally or recklessly touched a person in a harmful or offensive manner, but no further mental state is required (that is, the defendant does not have to intend to hurt the person or commit a crime). Theft on the other hand, is a specific intent crime because not only must the defendant intentionally commit an act of taking of another's property, but also must act with the specific intent to permanently deprive an owner of the property.
The majority of crimes are classified as general intent crimes. Another distinction between a general intent and specific intent crime is that intoxication and mental impairment are sufficient to negate a crime of specific intent but are insufficient to negate a crime of general intent.
If you or someone you know is being charged with a crime, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn about the criminal justice system, your rights, defenses, and all your legal options.
Compare to Specific Intent crime.