Meaning: The will is to be taken for the deed.
This is the old maxim with respect to treasonable offences.“In criminalibus voluntas reputabitur pro facto”; In criminal offences the will shall be taken for the deed. To constitute which offence of treason, the intention alone is sufficient.
In treasonable offences, that is, the compassing or imagining the death of the Sovereign, the law is more strict than in offences concerning the death of a subject ; and in such cases the rule is, “Voluntas reputabitur pro facto,” and, “ Scribere est agere.” Between subject and subject, however, the intent must be more manifest, and must be accompanied by undeniable overt acts.
An assault with intent to rob without taking money or goods is not felony ; though the contrary was once holden.
An expressed intention to commit murder, without any overt act, is not felony ; though with an overt act, under this maxim, it would be. As, where a servant having stolen his master's goods, went to his bedside and attempted to cut his throat, and thinking he had done so, left him and fled : he was adjudged to be hanged. For this overt act was evidence of the intent ; and, in crimes, the intent and not the consequence is to be regarded. “Voluntas in delictis, non exitus spectator.” As also, where one, knowing there to be a crowd of persons in the street adjoining where he was, threw a stone over the wall amongst them, thinking to frighten them, but without intent to kill, but whereby, nevertheless, one was killed ; this was adjudged to be manslaughter only ; for there was, in that case, no intent to murder. The intent will be gathered from all the surrounding circumstances. As, where on a charge of murder, the deceased having been found tied hand and foot, and with something forced into his throat, apparently to prevent outcry, but whereby he had been suffocated, and the state of the premises where he was found showing that a burglary had been committed ; the evidence against the prisoner being a chain of circumstances tending to identify him as one of two persons engaged in the burglary, the other not having been apprehended ; and the jury being satisfied that the prisoner had been engaged in the burglary, and was a party to the violence on the person of the deceased ; they were directed to find him guilty of murder, and which they accordingly did. The question of intent runs through all acts of a criminal nature. Thus, where a man ; being indicted for having feloniously broken and entered a shop with intent to commit a felony ; was proved to have made a hole in the roof of the shop, with intent to enter and steal : he was held to have been properly convicted of misdemeanor for attempting to commit a felony.
So a man who supplies a noxious drug to a woman with the intent that the woman shall take it for the purpose of procuring a miscarriage, is guilty of a misdemeanor, though the woman herself did not intend to take nor did take the noxious drug.
An infant under the age of seven years, however, is not within the meaning of the maxim, not being considered as having the capacity to intend to commit the crime of felony. And a child under fourteen years1), indicted for murder, must be proved to have been conscious of the nature of the act committed, in order to render it guilty of murder.