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transferred intent

n. in both criminal and tort (civil wrong) law, when an intent to cause harm to one person results in harm to another person instead of the intended target, the law transfers the intent to the actual harm. Examples: a) with malice aforethought Nate Nogood intends to shoot his girlfriend and misses her, and the bullet hits a passerby, killing him. Nogood may be charged with first degree murder since the intent to commit murder is transferred to the actual crime. b) Steve Swinger takes a punch at Harvey Hasgood, his hated enemy, misses Hasgood and hits Hasgood's date, Teri Truehart, in the nose, breaking it. Truehart can not only sue Swinger for damages due to the assault but can claim punitive damages because the malice against Hasgood attaches to the hit upon Truehart.

See also: intent 

The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications